Joke is on European Games sceptics, says Pat Hickey
Those people who joked the European Games would never take place have been proved wrong, said European Olympic Committee president Pat Hickey, the driving force behind the idea.
Paris: Those people who joked the European Games would never take place have been proved wrong, said European Olympic Committee president Pat Hickey, the driving force behind the idea.
The 69-year-old Irishman, who is also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board, added the doubters would see the proof for themselves when the inaugural Games open in Baku on June 12 with almost 6,500 athletes competing in 20 sports.
"When we got permission six to eight years ago to conduct a feasibility study there were people who joked and laughed that it would never take place," said Hickey, speaking from Baku.
"Well now we are into the final straight of what is going to be a spectacular event."
Hickey`s comments were echoed by Games chief executive Simon Clegg, who has been in his present post since last April.
"When I took over the role there were doubts being expressed but I believe we have addressed the reasons for those," said the 55-year-old Englishman, who has a full-time staff of just over 1350, 68% of whom are Azeri while the others come from 43 different nationalities.
"Whatever sceptics remain they will be won over when they see the scale of the Games come June.
"I predict an extremely exciting future for the European Games and I am delighted to be present for the `Big Bang` moment."
Part of the scepticism that remains is with regard to the level of competition especially in the blue riband sports of swimming and athletics.
Athletics will be just a two day event -- in the 66,000 seater National Stadium -- featuring European Athletics Team Championships Third League, the level in which Azerbaijan competes, while swimming will be restricted to swimmers between the ages of 16 and 18.
However, Hickey said that things would be markedly different for the 2019 Games -- which six cities have expressed an interest in hosting with the winner expected to be announced formally in May.
"We`re very happy with what we have got for these Games," said Hickey.
"The original idea was to have just 10 sports but we have ended up with 20 and had to decline six others who wanted to be part of the Games.
"With regards to swimming and athletics we will have the top athletes from the continent at the next Games.
"This was a fact-finding mission and we didn`t have time on our side."
Azerbaijan`s human rights record has also come under the microscope with rights groups saying the government has stepped up pressure on opponents since President Ilham Aliyev`s election for a third term in 2013 of the energy-rich Caspian Sea country.
Aliyev, 53, came to power in 2003 following an election seen as flawed by international observers.
He took over after the death of his father Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and communist-era leader who had ruled newly independent Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993.
The German Olympic Committee (DOSB) recently expressed concerns regarding the ability of journalists to cover the Games freely but Hickey said he had received the necessary assurances he required from the Azeri authorities.
"We have no concerns about that. We and the DOSB are singing from the same hymn sheet," said Hickey.
"We are committed to the upholding of the Olympic Charter and its principles. I have been given assurances by the Azeri authorities over that and I am confident that they will be fulfilled."