BAKU – The Azerbaijan capital Baku is set to stage a hugely successful Islamic Solidarity Games next month and enhance its position as a world-class sports venue, a top local sports official says.
The fourth edition of the games, bringing together the 57 members of the Islamic Solidarity Sport Federation (ISSF), will get underway on the western shore of the Caspian Sea on May 12 and already ISSF executive board member Konul Nurullayeva is confident that they will go smoothly.
“The good news is that we have full participation for now with 57 countries taking part,” she said.
“The first games took place in Saudi Arabia in 2005 with 54 countries and after the second games in Iran were cancelled, the next games were in Indonesia and 40 countries took part.
“Of course we are ready. It is still two weeks away, but I can say that the teams will start arriving in three or four days and everything is okay. The venues are ready and everything is under control.”
The Solidarity Games is just the latest in a long line of sporting events that Baku will have hosted, after the government identified international sport as being a key sector to enhance the country’s international image and develop its local infrastructures in the footsteps of such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
European championships in rhythmic gymmnastics and wrestling were held in 2007 and 2010 and Baku hosted the 2011 World Amateur Boxing Championships as well as the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012.
More recently in 2015, the Azerbaijan capital staged the inaugural European Games and that has proved to be the template for the Solidarity Games, according to Nurullayeva.
“It was so important that Baku held the European Games two years ago,” she said. “We gained a lot of experience through that and it is now easier for us. We feel more comfortable for the Islamic Games.
“In the world of Islam we have so many problems, headaches, it’s really very good to have these games and we want to use them in a positive way to promote peace, humanity, solidarity. Not violence and terror and things like this.”
There remains the question of Baku’s long-term sporting ambitions following failed back-to-back bids to stage the 2016 and 2020 Summer Olympics.
Nurullayeva played a leading role in both of those campaigns which she said left her feeling “a little bit upset” given what she sees as her country’s potential.
But she does not rule out a future Olympic bid.
“Yes why not,” she said. “But the real reason we are hosting events like the Solidarity Games is to develop sport in Azerbaijan, to increase local sport awareness because we are a new country.
“The Olympics would be like a continuation for us, but it’s not that we are doing all this for the Olympics.” — AFP