For the following 17 days, more than 6,000 athletes from the continent’s 49 Olympic nations will compete in 20 sports for the right to be called the first ever European Games champion.
Baku 2015 is Europe’s first major multi-sport event, and long after the competition has finished, the benefits will be of lasting significance in Azerbaijan for the next generation of budding Olympians. The 20 sports will take place in a total of 18 venues, of which 12 will be permanent. Five venues are new builds which will form part of the Baku 2015 legacy here in Azerbaijan.
The new 68,000-seat capacity National Stadium is the jewel in the Baku crown. Following the European Games, it will become the home of Azerbaijan’s national football team. Baku was recently selected as one of the 13 host cities for Uefa’s Euro 2020 competition, and the National Stadium will stage a total of four matches – including a vital quarter-final clash.
The Baku Aquatics Centre, which has a 6,000-seat capacity, is another important new build for the people of Baku because it will be open to the public following the Games. As the first purpose-built aquatics centre in the country, it will be of huge benefit for aspiring swim stars of the future.
The National Gymnastics Arena, the Baku Shooting Centre and the BMX Velopark also form an important part of future sporting opportunity. They are all hugely popular sports in the country, and these venues will afford thousands the chance to develop their talents in years to come.
But the lasting impact of the European Games extends beyond buildings and venues.
Another vital part is the human legacy being created as our team of experienced international staff work alongside Azerbaijani staff and share their expertise. Many have worked on recent competitions of international renown such as London 2012 and Sochi 2014, so they are sharing their insights into how a major event can be managed properly and delivered to the very highest level.
Another innovative part of our organisation is the development of our Games Academy, a programme which has been developed to assist in building the skills of young graduates and knowledge required to deliver the Games and leave a lasting capability legacy in Azerbaijan. Our Graduate Excellence Programme will see 199 young people develop their skills through Games time roles and provide them with unrivalled experience to advance their careers.
In years to come, Azerbaijan will host many more major sporting events including the Baku Formula One race in 2016, the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017 and those four Euro 2020 games. I have no doubt that the staff currently honing their talents within the Baku 2015 European Games Operations Committee will take their experience forward to organise and manage those events and many more to the required high standards that will impress the watching world.
Baku is a city that is proud of both its distinctive cultural heritage and its ambitious future. We want the European Games to contribute to the wealthy history of the city as it continues to look forward to creating a reputation as a dynamic destination in a modern and inclusive Europe.
Baku 2015 will be not only a significant moment in Azerbaijan’s history, but a new chapter in the proud history of European sport that will unify the whole continent in celebration.
Simon Clegg is the Chief Operating Officer of Baku 2015 European Games and a speaker at the Doha GOALS Forum 2014.