An official ceremony has today been held to see off the Azerbaijani athletes who will participate in the 31st Summer Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, President of the National Olympic Committee Ilham Aliyev attended the ceremony.
The head of state made a speech at the event.
Speech of President Ilham Aliyev
As you know, the 31st Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games will start in Rio de Janeiro on 5 August. In this official ceremony, we will bid farewell to our athletes leaving for the Games, and wish them success. I am sure that the Olympians and Paralympians will represent our country with dignity and return home with a great victory.
Azerbaijan will field a large team in these Games – 56 athletes. The number of licenses is 57. This is more than in the previous Olympic Games. In the summer Olympics in London, we had 53 athletes and, as you know, we won a great victory – 10 medals, two of which were gold. This time, our team is even bigger and, of course, we expect good results. There are sufficient grounds to say this, because our athletes have delighted us in various international competitions, world and European championships over the past four years. They have raised the glory of our country and won great victories in various major competitions. I am sure that our athletes will demonstrate patriotism, professionalism and perseverance, and represent the country in Rio de Janeiro with dignity.
Azerbaijan is a country of sports. This is acknowledged by the whole world and the sports public. Azerbaijan carries out a focused policy associated with sports and the Olympic movement. As a result of this policy, we can talk of these successes today. A sound policy and focused work have turned sports into an important social factor in Azerbaijan. There is great respect for athletes in our country. Athletes have earned a worthy place in society. The number of people interested in sports is gradually increasing. The main reason for this is the success of our athletes and the state care about them. All the problems of our athletes are being resolved. For about 20 years, according to an annual tradition, the state has been providing athletes, sports professionals and veterans with apartments. About 20-30 apartments are provided every year.
A sports infrastructure is being created in Azerbaijan. In recent years, more than 40 Olympic sports centers have been built and commissioned in the regions. The sports infrastructure in Baku is at the highest level. In the last year or two alone, we have put into operation several beautiful sports facilities – the National Gymnastics Arena, the Baku Olympic Stadium, the International Shooting Center and the Aquatic Palace. These sports facilities are at the same time great architectural works. These buildings impart special beauty to Baku. The areas around these sports facilities have been extensively landscaped and cleaned. The surroundings of the Baku Olympic Stadium were a zone of an environmental disaster. On the one hand, there was a swamp and on the other Lake Boyukshor. They were a source of environmental threat. All these areas have been cleaned, the oil-stained land and other were removed and extensive landscaping work carried out. A part of Lake Boyukshor has been completely cleaned, a boulevard one kilometer in length and parks have been built. The area around the Aquatic Palace also was an oilfield before. It has also been cleaned out. Today, there is a beautiful park around the Aquatic Palace. It covers dozens of hectares of land, and the people of Baku enjoy these opportunities.
In so doing, we pursued several goals. Of course, to conduct the European Games Baku needed new sports facilities. At the same time, we resolved environmental problems. Our city has become more beautiful and landscaped.
The creation of sports infrastructure, especially in the regions, allows the children and youth living there the opportunity to do sports. I have personally attended the opening of all regional Olympic centers and said that the main goal was to promote sports. Of course, we need victories and champions, and we have that. But at the same time, we need a healthy youth and a healthy nation. The children and teenagers doing sports are physically healthy. At the same time, they possess high moral qualities.
Our advanced and outstanding athletes are an example for all athletes. They have achieved a lot in sports. Also, all of them are patriots. At the same time, our champions behave very decently in society. This is a new example of behavior. The children and teenagers interested in sports should be like you – the athletes present here. They see that if you have achieved a great success in sport and behave with dignity in society, you can enjoy a good life. This is the reason for the influx of people to sports observed in recent years. This makes me very happy because the more people are engaged in sports, the better for them and for our state. People engaged in sports are patriots. Sporting victories delight every patriotic citizen of Azerbaijan. Every time we see our flag raised in an international competition, our hearts are filled with pride. These moments of joy are given to us by our athletes. I am sure that our athletes will win more victories in future competitions and please the people of Azerbaijan.
Our country traditionally hosts international sporting events. We have witnessed this for many years. The number of these events is growing every year and their level is increasing. Today, world and European championships held in Azerbaijan have become commonplace. In previous years, particularly in the early 2000s, we were proud of conducting European or world youth or junior championship, but today Azerbaijan hosts prestigious world and European championships, classification tournaments for Olympic Games and various other international competitions several times a year. This is a sign of great respect from the international sports community.
The International Olympic Committee and European Olympic Committee have given a high assessment to the work done in the field of sports in Azerbaijan. They highlight another factor, and you know that quite well – Azerbaijan carries out a state policy in relation to sports. All the bodies responsible for sports work as a team, and it is this unity that underpins our success. The National Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, federations, sports associations and clubs have the same goal: to develop sports in Azerbaijan and to enable Azerbaijani sportsmen to always win the highest places in international competitions.
This is why I can say today that Azerbaijan is a sports nation. First, we have created the most advanced sports infrastructure, which allows us the opportunity to conduct all the games at the highest level. The European Games held in Azerbaijan are evidence of that. Second, Azerbaijani sportsmen always win high places in various competitions, Olympic Games, world championships, European championships, Youth Olympic Games, etc. We pursue a thought-out and consistent policy related to the development of sports, and this policy has repeatedly justified itself. Therefore, I am sure that international sports agencies will treat Azerbaijan with great respect in the coming years. We will try to make sure that Azerbaijan reaffirms its sporting reputation and demonstrate its capabilities in the future.
I have mentioned that Baku has hosted several prestigious international competitions. A special place among them is held by European Games, of course. After all, these were the first such Games in history. In contrast to other continents, Europe had never conducted continental games of its own for some reason, and when the European Olympic Committee put forward this initiative, it was not perceived unambiguously by all Olympic Committees. As you know, there was no particular interest in conducting these Games: first, because it was a new initiative; second, no-one had an idea what needed to be done to conduct the Games. Azerbaijan demonstrated its leadership again. We said that we would be ready and able to prepare for the Games even though we had only two years. Seven to eight years are usually allocated for a country to prepare for Olympic Games. This time we had only two years. However, we were confident that we could cope with this honorable task because Azerbaijan is a strong state. We already had a sports infrastructure and our organizational skills were at a high level. Therefore, we put forward our candidacy, and by a majority of votes Azerbaijan was entrusted with this honorable mission.
We all remember that – the Games were held a year ago. The Games were held at the level of Summer Olympic Games. The Games brought together 6,000 athletes. Thousands of people came to Azerbaijan. The Games were shown on TV in Europe and on other continents. The whole world saw again that Azerbaijan is a developed, modern and beautiful country. The world saw that there are very strong athletes in this beautiful country. The European Games are our historic achievement, a historic victory. It is a victory of Azerbaijanis sport and Azerbaijani state. We held the Games in a short time and at the highest level. The Games in Azerbaijan were observed by many people and the majority of members of the International Olympic Committee.
On the other hand, our athletes won a historic victory and finished second in team standings. Twenty-one of our medals were gold, and this is a historic success. I always say that we were actually in first place because there is no team in Europe that could compete with Russia. The Russian team, of course, was in first place by a huge margin. But Azerbaijan finished in second place, and this is a great victory indeed. We all remember those wonderful days. The entire society was united. Every patriot watched the Games with a sense of pride and rejoiced in the victories of our athletes.
European Games are now history. I should also note that, according to the information reaching me, some countries are now slightly cautious. They say that they will not be able to hold the Games at the level of Azerbaijan. They are a little cautious. You probably know that it is not yet known where the next Games will be held.
We are going our own way. We have demonstrated our strength. We have shown again that a strong state has strong people and strong athletes. Azerbaijan is known worldwide as a beautiful and developing country. As you know, the first Formula-1 event was held in Azerbaijan last month. According to international ratings, this competition is on the same level as Summer Olympic Games and World Cup in Football. Its viewing audience is 500 million people, and 500 million people had the chance to enjoy the beauty of Baku.
The fact that these events are held in Azerbaijan is, of course, our historical achievement. It shows the strength of our country once again. Baku is the 21st place to host Formula 1. It has been held in 20 cities, and Baku is 21st. If you look at the list of these cities, you can see that they are all developed cities. And Baku is one of them. We wanted this competition to be held on the streets. This would give the competition extra charm. At the same time, the whole world will see the beauty of Baku. It is one thing to see it in a stadium when it is unclear what city is playing host to the competition, and it is quite another when it is held on the main streets of our city. According to the numerous data I have received, Baku has become a tourist center. We are already seeing that. Formula 1 will play a special role in the development of Azerbaijan’s tourism potential. We are already seeing that. A growing number of people come to Baku, discover our city and country. Many of them come to Baku for the first time. They see how beautiful and developed Baku is.
This year Baku will also host the World Chess Olympiad. Next year we will host Islamic Solidarity Games. This demonstrates the potential of our country. At the same time, it demonstrates the role our country plays in the world. The fact that European Games were held in Azerbaijan in 2015 and Islamic Games will be held in 2017 reflects the unique conditions of our country. As you know, this year has been declared a "Year of Multiculturalism" in Azerbaijan. Multiculturalism is best reflected by these two competitions - European and Islamic games.
Here are today's realities of Azerbaijan. Today Azerbaijan plays a special role in the dialogue between civilizations. This year, Baku hosted the Seventh Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Today, our country is known as a very tolerant, modern and developing state. The world community is already aware that representatives of all nationalities and ethnicities live in Azerbaijan like one family, in peace and with dignity. It is our greatest asset. The fact that Baku is hosting both European and Islamic Games also pursues this goal. Our role on a global scale is increasing. Countries such as Azerbaijan play an even greater role in the world. We share our experience. Azerbaijan has covered a long and glorious road in 25 years. We have been an independent country for only 25 years, but look what we have achieved!
Today, Azerbaijan is a developing country. Representatives of all ethnicities live in Azerbaijan like one family. We live at our own expense. Despite the ongoing global crisis, we are on a path of development. The crisis of 2008-2009 and 2015-2016 did not have a major impact on us. Why? Because the people and the government are together! Because there are no differences in society related to the development of our country! Because we live at our own expense, are economically and politically independent and conduct an independent policy! Ours is a dignified policy based on the interests of the Azerbaijani people. We are open to the whole world. This is why the number of our friends in the world increases. Respect for us is also growing. A growing number of countries want to cooperate with us.
We are going our own way. Sporting successes are part of the country’s overall success. Only strong countries can have strong sports. Look at the results of Olympic Games. What teams are global leaders? The vast majority of them are developed countries. So sports can’t be separated from overall development. Therefore, the development of Azerbaijani sports is a manifestation of our overall development. If we were not economically and financially independent, if we did not develop economically, we would be unable to invest in the development of sport at the desired level. But I want to say again today: Azerbaijan is confidently and successfully developing and all our objectives for 2016 are being met. Azerbaijan is a place of security, stability and development. I am sure that our role in the region and the world will gradually increase.
Dear athletes, you will hit the road in a few days. Every sporting event is a test. There are both victories and defeats in sports competitions. No-one is immune from defeat. The main thing is that you should always remember that the people of Azerbaijan await your victories and wish you every success. I am sure that you will adequately represent the Motherland and return to Azerbaijan with a great victory. I wish you a good journey. Thank you.
President Ilham Aliyev posed for photographs with the athletes.