ON TRACK & FIELD

Azerbaijan 2012 | TOURISM & SPORTS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Azad Rahimov, Minister of Youth & Sports, on the Year of Sports, the Olympic bid, and ministry initiatives.

Azad Rahimov
BIOGRAPHY
Born in 1964, Azad Rahimov is currently the Minister of Youth and Sports. His previous positions include Vice-President of the National Olympic Committee, and President of the Azerbaijan Dance Sport Federation. He studied at the Azerbaijan State University of Languages.

President Ilham Aliyev announced that 2012 would be the “Year of Sports." What major goals has the Ministry of Youth and Sports set for this year?

This announcement is very important for Azerbaijan's youth, especially those who are involved in sports. Over the last few years, the government has built 33 sports complexes, and 11 more will be finished in 2012, including a gymnastics center and swimming pool in Baku, the Olympic stadium, and a variety of boxing, wrestling, and judo facilities. This is also a key year for the future of our activities. In the summer of 2012, Azerbaijan will be participating in the London Olympics. Baku is bidding to host the 2020 Olympics, and the results will be announced in 2013. Azerbaijan will also be hosting the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup, which we expect will boost the sport's popularity among women. The year 2012 will be an important year for Azerbaijani athletes and the sports community as a whole.

What steps has the Ministry taken to demonstrate to the International Olympic Committee that Baku is ready to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games?

One of our strengths is the unanimous commitment from Azerbaijan's institutions, government bodies, and civil society. Every organization is working to realize the dream of hosting the Olympics. According to a survey conducted by TNS Global, 95% of Azerbaijan's population have shown support for Baku's bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games, and 93% believe that Baku will be selected. The Ministry has been promoting the Olympic spirit in many Azerbaijani schools, as the students are potential athletes or volunteers for the event. It is important to stimulate the development of society through sports and volunteerism, especially in young people, as more than 50% of our population is under the age of 30. Through the Olympic Games, we can improve the lives of millions of young men and women and contribute to their success.

How has sports infrastructure evolved over the last two decades in Azerbaijan, and what are the main infrastructure priorities for the Ministry of Youth and Sports?

Azerbaijan has heavily invested in the development of its sports infrastructure network in order to boost our athletes' potential and host international events. Over the last few years, we have succeeded in hosting large-scale international tournaments, as well as European and world championships, to increase Azerbaijan's reputation as an international sports contender. In 2011, we organized a total of 42 international events, and our athletes won 706 medals. In the 2012 Summer Olympics, more than 50 Azerbaijani athletes will be in London participating in the games and achieving success.

What are some of the key elements of the state program to develop Azerbaijan's youth from 2011 to 2015?

A similar program was carried out between 2005 and 2009, and brought about excellent results. We effectively adapted policies toward youth aged between 14 and 29 years, who comprise one-third of the country's population. Some of the most important aspects of the program are the further implementation of youth policies, the development of infrastructure in regional Azerbaijan, and the construction of youth centers across the country. We are proud of the high level of achievement that young Azerbaijanis have demonstrated in the fields of education, science, and culture. We are also advancing entrepreneurship among the youth by supporting the establishment of their own businesses. We are strengthening our students' development by encouraging them to participate in the international community through various channels. We are aiming toward developing their skills and knowledge, providing them with the right tools to stimulate their intellectual and creative potential, and promoting employment tools, especially for lower-income students. We have established a youth fund to foster talent and creativity. These intellectual assets will present new opportunities for our youth. Azerbaijan's youth are a very dynamic, rapidly developing part of the population, and it is important to encourage them to take an active role in the public sphere, both nationally and internationally.

How is the Ministry of Youth and Sports synchronizing with other ministries and institutions to implement policies and develop projects?

Today, young people are able to actively participate in projects in many fields, including culture, tourism, health, education, and economics. Fortunately, the Ministry and other state and non-governmental organizations have initiated bilateral projects and policies. Together we have constructed and allocated housing for young people in Baku. In 2011, we registered more than 215 youth organizations, up from the 70 organizations operating in 2006. Such data prove that different national programs and policies between the government and other entities have been successful.