THE HUNT FOR THE FLAME

Azerbaijan 2012 | TOURISM & SPORTS | FOCUS: SPORTS

With a renewed commitment to athleticism and improved infrastructure, Baku is working hard to secure the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

Since its bid was submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Baku has been working hard to demonstrate its capacity to host the 2020 Summer Olympics. Azerbaijan's emerging tourism industry, improving infrastructure, and growing global profile are boosting the belief that the capital will be victorious when the host city is announced in 2013. It is hoped that a successful bid will provide the country with the opportunity to demonstrate its economic achievements and athletic prowess on the world stage.

However, Baku faces stiff competition as it embarks on a second attempt to bring the Games to Azerbaijan. The other cities bidding to host the event are Doha, Madrid, Istanbul, and Tokyo. Spain and Japan have extensive experience hosting international events, as well as the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Doha has hosted a number of Asian events, and Qatar has already won the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Istanbul is bidding for the fifth time. Rome dropped out of the bidding process in early 2012, giving Baku a little more of an edge against a phalanx of international big hitters.

Azerbaijan has a 20-year history of involvement with the Olympic Games. The country established an official National Olympics Committee (NOC) in 1992, just two years after it gained independence. Since then, Azerbaijan has participated in nine Summer and Winter Olympic Games, picking up 16 medals in categories such as wrestling, boxing, and judo. In 2012, more than 50 Azerbaijani athletes will participate in the Summer Olympic Games in London.

To promote Azerbaijan as an athletic country and ignite further interest in sports nationwide, Baku will host its largest international sports event yet, the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup. The FIFA Executive Committee's decision to give Azerbaijan the tournament demonstrates FIFA's interest in developing long-term cooperation with the country. Under the supervision of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA), Baku is restoring pre-existing local stadiums and constructing a number of new complexes in preparation for the event. By the end of 2012, Azerbaijan will have 44 sports facilities throughout the country.

Construction is also underway for an Olympic stadium, to be completed in 2015. The stadium will have a seating capacity of 65,000, exceeding UEFA and FIFA league requirements. In addition, the facility will boast 3,617 parking spaces, an Olympic swimming pool, and 13,847 sqm of garden space. The stadium will meet standards allowing the country to host international tournaments, league qualification rounds, and world championships.

In 2011, Azerbaijani athletes were awarded hundreds of medals in international sporting events worldwide, 42 of which were held in Azerbaijan. With a growing number of world-class athletes, Azerbaijan is becoming a contender in the international arena.

Should it win the Olympic bid, Azerbaijan is likely to push for the inclusion of a national obsession to the competition: chess. Although the IOC has announced that it will not consider chess for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Azerbaijan could request the decision be revisited if it wins the 2020 bid. Azerbaijan is home to almost 20 chess grandmasters with a number of international distinctions.

According to a 2011 survey, 93% of Azerbaijanis believe that Baku will be selected as the host city. The Minister of Youth and Sport told TBY, “our strength 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." In this way, the people of Azerbaijan are playing a key role in the bidding process.

In the spirit of growing interest and support of the athletic environment and excitement surrounding the Olympic bid, the Ministry of Youth and Sports declared 2012 the “Year of Sports" in Azerbaijan. The announcement will stimulate the development of society as a whole, as more and more young people become athletes and volunteers in the athletic community. With this new wave of interest and government initiatives, Baku may well bring the Olympic flame to the Caspian coast for the first time.