HEADS HELD HIGH

Azerbaijan 2012 | TOURISM & SPORTS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Elkhan Mammadov, General Secretary of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan, on the role of the body, the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, and the success of FC Karabakh.

Elkhan Mammadov
BIOGRAPHY
Born in 1979, Elkhan Mammadov graduated from the American InterContinental University and Westminster University in Management, and attained his Master’s degree in Management from the University of Salford. After graduating, he became Deputy Director at Natavan Business Centre, and was then promoted to Director. In 2007 he was appointed General Secretary of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA).

What is the history and achievements of this governing body of football in Azerbaijan?

The year 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of AFFA. As in all areas of life, not all of our activities have been carried out smoothly. Achievements and failures, as well as disappointments and victories, are constantly chasing one another. Nevertheless, there has been some stability over the last few years. AFFA has established a system to monitor the performance of national teams and organize tournaments held countrywide. For many years, the limitations of the country's infrastructure have prevented the development of football. Thankfully, these problems are about to be solved. Approximately 80 artificial pitches have been installed throughout the country, and in addition, AFFA has constructed a Football Center in Mardakan, which consists of a beach soccer pitch and the Dalga Arena with the capacity to hold 6,700 fans. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini were also present at the opening ceremony of the Dalga Arena on June 6, 2011. Currently, two stadiums with the capacity for 11,000 and 3,000 fans are under construction in the districts of Nizami and Bayil, respectively. Measures have been taken in order to reach high-level standards in football infrastructure, as it is one of the three main priorities of AFFA for the development of football in our country. The other two priorities are education and promotion. As in many countries all over the world, football is one of the most popular sports in Azerbaijan. Among AFFA's main targets are the development of every style of the game, the promotion of the sport, the development of professionals in the sphere of modern football management, the improvement of infrastructure, and the encouragement of children, teenagers, and other young people to adopt healthy life styles.

What is the importance of international cooperation between the AFFA and institutions such as UNICEF to further strengthen football's penetration among children and women?

The work done by AFFA in the sphere of women's football development attracted UNICEF's attention, and today there is strong ongoing cooperation between the two organizations. For example, we named the U-17 Girls League, which consists of 16 different teams representing different the regions of our country, the U-17 UNICEF Girls League. Within the framework of this cooperation, UNICEF representatives in Azerbaijan are constantly organizing different seminars on women's rights. In general, I believe that this cooperation between UNICEF and AFFA is very influential in the development of women's football in Azerbaijan.

What impact do you expect the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup to have on the country? Will Azerbaijan be bidding for more international tournaments in the near future?

As a developing country situated between the East and West, we have embraced women's football. When we prepared the bidding documents for the event, we thought it could be difficult for Azerbaijan to win the privilege of hosting. The final appointment was a very special moment for us, and we celebrated it. The main idea of the event is to organize the best FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in history. With the help of this unique event, we want to promote sports, present our country to the world, and let people familiarize themselves with our culture, economy, and prospects. The tournament will attract 16 teams from around the world to take part in this championship, and more than 125 countries will broadcast the matches live. Some of us will have the chance to recognize our daughters, friends, and relatives on the screen. It is also important for our young, energetic, creative Local Organizing Committee to work side by side with FIFA professionals. As the first whistle of the tournament approaches, we already recognize the results of our hard work, and we are more confident now. We have applied for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and I have the honor of presenting the bid for this occasion. I am confident that we will win.

What is AFFA doing to ensure high standards of coaching and refereeing in Azerbaijan?

The topic of the referees and coaches cannot be ignored in the complex development of football. Much work has been done to reach higher standards in both spheres. For example, we have held seminars with the participation of international experts on these issues and AFFA is now hosting courses to prepare young referees. Until 2011, AFFA organized UEFA's C, B, and A category coaching courses. We are pleased that UEFA has applauded AFFA's activities and granted us the right to host professional-category courses as well, and this represents a great success for our country. I believe that the education in both the refereeing and coaching will be improved on a constant basis.

FK Karabakh reached the UEFA Europa League play-offs twice in the last couple of years. How does this accomplishment reflect the evolution of Azerbaijani football?

The achievement of our clubs at international tournaments makes us proud and happy. Their achievement represents a victory for Azerbaijani football on a larger scale. This result is proof that the strategy chosen for development is the correct one. We are overjoyed that FC Karabakh accomplished this success. We are promoting the historical land of Karabakh throughout Europe and the world. With every achievement of this club, the international community learns more about our country.