28 June 2015

The 1st European Games came to an end in a spectacular and glitzy ceremony in Baku on Sunday evening. The ceremony featured traditional Azerbaijani music and culture, laced in with modern music and artistic expression in a well balanced ceremony that drew the curtain on what has been Azerbaijan's biggest international event ever.

More than six thousand athletes participated in the games, and the Azerbaijani government is said to have spent billions of dollars to provide the infrastructure and the right conditions for the games to take place.

Speaking at the closing ceremony, the wife of the President of Azerbaijan, and Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Baku Games, Mehriban Aliyeva, thanked Europe for giving Azerbaijan an opportunity to host the games and said that she was proud of Azerbaijan and of the Azerbaijani nation for the effort that was made to make the Games a huge success. Speaking in English and Azerbaijanii, Mehraban Alieva hailed the contribution of the athletes, as well as the twelve thousand volunteers that worked to make the Games a success.

The colourful closing ceremony was full of symbolism from Azerbaijan's history. Earlier the athletes from fifty European nations were given a tumultuous welcome as they entered the stadium for the closing ceremony. political editor said that "the Games have been a success for Azerbaijan despite some controversy that surrounded them. The Games had been overly politicised by both the Azerbaijan Government and its opponents. In the end however the Olympic spirit prevailed throughout the seveteen days of the games, and the spirit of friendship was also reflected in the closing ceremony. There will remain questions about whether Azerbaijan should have spent so much money on a prestige event when it has still a number of big challenges within its society that it needs to tackle. However a nation does not exist only on bread, and considering that Azerbaijan was only a couple of decades ago a nation broken by war, strife and economic collapse, the Games signify a new national confidence.

The Games were a European event and all European countries, large and small participated. It was wrong that some Azerbaijani officials kept claiming throughout the Games that there was some European boycott of the Games. If there had been a European boycott European teams would not have participated. Instead the Games had a full turnout. The European Union, at the Riga Eastern Partnership summit wished the Baku Games success. It is true that some European leaders stayed away. Since there has never been European Games before it is not clear whether they did so simply because the occasion did not demand it, or for political reasons. If the latter, the Azerbaijani government needs to reflect as to whether it could have been more sensitive to European sensibilities in the run-up to the games and whether its own actions had made high level European participation problematic. Regardless of this, the success of the 1st European Games in Baku is a welcome development, that affirms Azerbaijan's position among the family of European nations, and once more confirms the role of sport as a means for building peace and solidarity among nations".


photo: The closing ceremony of Baku 2015 - 1 st European Games, on Sundat 28 June 2015 (Picture courtesy of Getty Images/Baku 2015).