As the leading authority on football in the country, how would you assess Azerbaijan's football performance in the European Games beach soccer event?
First of all, I would like to note, with the organizing of the European Games at a high level, Azerbaijan again demonstrated that the country is one of the most competent at holding important events in the region. As the President of the Republic, Ilham Aliyev, noted, in fact, that Azerbaijan has set standards at the European Games by organizing an unforgettable tournament. As for the performance of the national beach soccer team at the tournament, of course we would have liked to win. But there are objective reasons for it. Teams that had previously gained great victories during Beach Soccer World Cups and European Championships competed at the European Games. As you may know, beach soccer is one of the newly emerging sports in Azerbaijan. It was very important for Azerbaijani players to gain experience at the European Games. The Azerbaijan Beach Soccer team gained the necessary experience and increased proficiency playing against such strong teams. In this regard, the games, which Azerbaijan lost at the European Games, did not discourage us; quite the contrary, it offered a powerful incentive to win by drawing lessons from defeats.
AFFA will be hosting the UEFA Under-17 Championship Finals in Baku. What are your expectations for this event?
It is a privilege to be trusted to host the UEFA Under-17 Championship Finals. Historically, this is the tournament where many football stars have jumpstarted their careers. With 16 competing teams, it will be interesting to witness players' pathway after the event. Some of them may even come back to Baku for UEFA Euro 2020 matches. This tournament is also a great opportunity to promote youth football in the country. We hope the legacy of the event will carry on to future generations, who will love football even more. We are experienced in organizing similar tournaments. The 2012 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup was held in Azerbaijan. FIFA defined the tournament held in our country as "one of the all-time best FIFA tournaments." I believe the UEFA U-17 Championship Azerbaijan-2016 will be no exception in this regard and the country will go down in history as the organizer of another successful international tournament. There is a bit of symmetrical sequence in our hosting of international football tournaments: the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2012, UEFA U-17 Championship Azerbaijan-2016 this year, and four games of UEFA Euro 2020 four years later. In other words, a great football festival takes place in Azerbaijan every four years.
As an institute that works to promote sport throughout Azerbaijan, what are your thoughts on the Formula One Grand Prix coming to Baku in the summer of 2016?
Azerbaijan has become one of the main centers in Europe and hosts large-scale local and international events. Baku Marathon will be held on May 1 by the initiative of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and with the organizational support of AFFA, and the Formula One Grand Prix is to be held in June 2016. We hope that people will enjoy these and the future events that will be held in Azerbaijan.
Together within Bakcell, AFFA has announced the enrolment of the preliminary training group for the Manchester United Soccer School in Baku. How will this initiative help spur an interest in football among children and develop their skills at a young age?
Manchester United Soccer School was opened in 2014 in Baku. This is a great opportunity for Azerbaijani boys aged 6-12 to receive thorough football training with one of the leading football schools in the world. We have already witnessed high interest in this project. This means that children have interest in football not only as a leisure activity, but also as a potential future career. Currently, we have five talent groups at school with over 40 boys: three player development squads and two player foundation squads. Players train two times a week and also take English lessons for more effective communication with coaches.
One of AFFA's priorities in Azerbaijan concerns education about sport. What kinds of educational opportunities exist through AFFA for prospective specialists and coaches?
AFFA organizes and participates in education development events on a regular basis. Each year we organize one UEFA A, two UEFA B, and 5-7 C license training sessions for football coaches. UEFA Pro is organized once every three years. In 2016, we will hold UEFA A Goalkeeper license training for the first time. Additionally, technical and administrative staff always participates in other professional qualification training and workshops.
What are you most looking forward to for AFFA over 2016 in particular?
We strive for the successful organization of the UEFA Under-17 Championship Finals. Experience gained during this event and the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup will be carried on to the organization of three group stage games and one quarterfinal of EURO 2020. We will also continue our work toward education and infrastructure development in the years to come.