Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the solemn ceremony on 25th jubilee of Azerbaijan National Olympic Committe
29 september 2017, 13:30
- Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Today we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the National Olympic Committee. This ceremony is being attended by representatives of the sports community of Azerbaijan and foreign guests. Taking this opportunity, I would like to specifically welcome the representatives of the European Olympic Committees who have come to our country to attend today's ceremony. Azerbaijan is an active member of the European Olympic Committees. Of course, the participation of the leadership of the European Olympic Committees in the today's ceremony is very encouraging. I should also note that a meeting of the Executive Committee of the European Olympic Committees, as well as the forum of National Olympic Committees, is to be held in Baku today.
The Olympic movement and sports are developing rapidly in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is known in the world as a sporting nation. Sport is a state policy in Azerbaijan. By conducting a policy in this direction, the state has managed to achieve comprehensive development of sport. I should note that all relevant bodies, the National Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, sports associations and federations pursue the goal of further developing sport in Azerbaijan and achieving broader coverage of sport, so that our athletes could delight us with their victories in international competitions even more often. As a result of this joint activity and thanks to the coordination among all the bodies responsible for the development of sport, Azerbaijan has achieved a great success in the field of sports in the international arena.
Of course, first of all, we had to create conditions for people to do sport. Thanks to public investment, numerous Olympic facilities have been built and commissioned in Azerbaijan. Suffice it to say that up to 50 modern Olympic sports centers have been built in the regions of Azerbaijan. There is modern sports infrastructure in Baku today. The sports facilities constructed in previous years have been overhauled. At the same time, several large stadiums and sports centers have been built in recent years. Among them, of course, I should note the Olympic Stadium with a seating capacity of 70,000 spectators. The construction of such modern sports facilities as the National Gymnastic Arena, the Aquatic Palace and the Baku Shooting Center also required major investment. There is also a sports camp in Baku. In a word, the funds invested in the development of sports in recent years and the infrastructure projects implemented both in the regions and in Baku are bearing fruit.
Of course, we are proud of our achievements in sport. After all, our athletes worthily represent our country in the international arena. Azerbaijan took part in the Summer Olympic Games as an independent state for the first time in 1996 and won only one medal at that time. Twenty years later, at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Azerbaijani athletes won 18 medals, while Azerbaijan finished in 14th place for the number of medals in team standings. This progress is the best indicator of the development of sport. After all, the number of our medals consistently increased from Olympic Games to Olympic Games, and the winning of 18 medals is a great historic achievement indeed.
At the same time, Azerbaijani athletes achieved great successes in European and world championships. This year, two of our athletes became world champions in freestyle wrestling and boxing for the third time. This is also a historic achievement. In a word, Azerbaijan today is one of the countries possessing a powerful sporting potential. We have a comprehensive approach to the issue of infrastructure, as well as the training of athletes and the education of young sportsmen. I want to note again that all relevant bodies are serving one goal, which is exactly why we have been able to make these achievements in sport.
We are actively involved in the international arena as part of the International Olympic Committee and European Olympic Committees. We have excellent relations with international federations. It is no coincidence that Azerbaijan hosts prestigious international competitions several times a year. These days Baku is hosting the Women's European Volleyball Championship. The holding of international competitions in Azerbaijan has become a tradition. We are used to this and, of course, this demonstrates the potential of our country and reflects the confidence of international federations in us. I would like to specifically note the prestigious competitions among such events. Baku has hosted two Formula-1 Grand Prix events. In terms of the audience, this is probably the second biggest sporting event next to the Summer Olympics. The audience of these competitions numbers 500 million people. The Formula-1 competitions held in Baku twice have already taken a worthy place among all Formula-1 events. After all, it is a city circuit, and the competition is more interesting for spectators and television viewers. At the same time, half a billion people could see the beauty of our city.
World and European championships are held in Azerbaijan. Of course, I should emphasize the first European Games held in Baku in 2015. I would like to once again express my gratitude to the leaders and members of the European Olympic Committees who made this decision. The adoption of that decision allowed us the opportunity to conduct these Games, demonstrate our capabilities and thus give a start to European Games. You are probably aware that we had only two and a half years to prepare for the Games, and I can say that the Games were held at the level of Summer Olympic Games. A total of 50 countries participated in the Games in Baku. More than 5,000 athletes, thousands of members of delegations and guests came to Azerbaijan. I should also note that Azerbaijan showed a very good result in the Games – our athletes finished in second place in the team classification. We all remember those Games - it was a wonderful celebration of sport and friendship. I am sure that the atmosphere of those days will not be erased from our memory. Having accumulated great experience, Azerbaijan successfully hosted the Fourth Games of Islamic Solidarity this year. A total of 54 countries and more than 3,000 sportsmen participated in these Games. In these Games too, Azerbaijani athletes demonstrated their strength and finished in first place in the team classification among 54 countries. These Games were a also great success. I am sure that the athletes and guests who took part in both the European Games and the Games of Islamic Solidarity returned to their home countries with the best impressions.
The hosting of these Games demonstrates the potential of our country, our policy and our capabilities. These Games are not just sports competitions. Sport is an important factor strengthening friendship and the relations between peoples. The holding of both European and Islamic games in this city in a matter of two years should be perceived as our contribution to the dialogue among civilizations.
You know that Azerbaijan is doing a lot in this direction on a global scale. Azerbaijan has asserted itself as one of the centers of multiculturalism in the world. We declared last year as a "Year of Multiculturalism" in Azerbaijan. This year is the Year of Islamic Solidarity. There is a close connection between these two initiatives. In other words, we demonstrate and stress by these initiatives that all issues in the world should be resolved in the conditions of mutual understanding and cooperation. It was Azerbaijan that launched the "Baku process" in 2008. Today, the "Baku process" is a broad movement supported by the UN. In 2008, Azerbaijan invited the Ministers of Culture of member-countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the Forum of Ministers of Culture of the Council of Europe. Thus, both organizations held a joint forum for the first time. The "Baku process" has since covered a very long road and is now highly regarded in the international arena.
Therefore, sport as an important factor of public life will, of course, continue to play a role. By hosting sport competitions, Azerbaijan also pursues the goal of building the relations with peoples and countries on the basis of mutual trust and respect.
Today's ceremony is of special importance to me because I have been president of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan for 20 years. In 1997, the Azerbaijani sports community showed me this confidence. I am fulfilling this honorable mission to this day even though I was elected President of the country six years later. Of course, my responsibility has significantly increased. However, as president of the National Olympic Committee, I am trying to pay attention to all the issues related to the development of sports. I can say that all competitions are in the spotlight. I follow competitions as much as I can. I interested enquire about problems of athletes. More than 20 years of my life have already been devoted to the Olympic movement and sports.
I should also note that state and public organizations in Azerbaijan take an active part in addressing everyday problems of athletes. Every year, according to the results of the year, more than 20 of the most famous sportsmen are provided with apartments, other awards and pensions by the state. So we always try to support our athletes because sport has become a very important social factor in Azerbaijan and in our society today.
To be an athlete is very honorable. Sportsmen enjoy great respect in society. I should also note that our athletes behave with dignity both in sports competitions and at home. Athletes, their successes and the support provided by the state, of course, also attract children to sports clubs because children see that if you can achieve success in sports, then both the people and the state will appreciate you.
Thus, junior and children’s sport are also successfully developing in Azerbaijan today. As I have mentioned, there are excellent conditions for engaging in sports in all our regions. The successful performance of our champions and their victories, of course, attract both young people and children to sport. Every time our athletes have our flag raised in international competitions, every Azerbaijani patriot feels justifiably proud. I want to express my gratitude to Azerbaijani athletes once again for these victories, for this joy of victory they are giving to our people.
In conclusion of my remarks, I would also like to touch upon one more issue. We in Azerbaijan are somewhat used to sporting successes today. Some people think that this should be the case. But we should also look back, compare and see that if Azerbaijan, which is not such a big country and does not have such a large population, finished in 14th place for the number of medals at the Olympic Games in Rio, then this is a truly historic success.
We have always had strong athletes. In the Soviet era, Azerbaijani athletes adequately represented our nation in USSR national teams. However, the current achievements are incomparably different from those.
Today, we, as an independent state, are in 14th place on the world scale for the number of medals. How has this been achieved? Of course, due to the work done, our policies – I have already expressed my opinion about this. I have noted only some of the work done. However, the main reason and the main source is our independence. We have lived as an independent country for 26 years – our destiny in our own hands. The Azerbaijani people and their will determine our policy today. The independent Azerbaijan pursuing an independent policy has achieved successes in all spheres, including the field of sport.
A few days ago, the World Economic Forum in Davos, the world's leading economic authority, disclosed its economic competitiveness index. Azerbaijan, having advanced two steps within a year, rose from 37th to 35th place. It is the first place in the CIS. About 140 economies have been reviewed. Among them, Azerbaijan, a young independent state, ranks 35th. How has this been achieved? Due to a thoughtful policy, due to the unity between the people and the government. This is underpinned by our independence. Our independence is our greatest happiness and our greatest asset. Most of our athletes who have won medals and enhanced our sporting glory in the world were born in the years of independence. All of them emerged in the period of independence.
Azerbaijan will continue to successfully follow the path of independence. In the future, we will have even more sporting successes. I congratulate all our athletes on their victories and wish them continued victories and successes. Thank you!