ROME/BAKU, December 8, 2012 - Azerbaijan's ambitious use of sport as a means to gain international visibility has been rewarded by landing the prize as initial host of the inaugural European Games in 2015.
The Azeris' efforts - not least in promoting the capital, Baku, as a venue for the Olympic Games - was recognised in the decision by the European Olympic Committees at its rearranged meeting in Rome.
Baku had bid most recently to host the 2020 Olympic Games but did not make the shortlist of three decided by the International Olympic Committee last May.
Sports Ministry officials told this writer in September that a further Olympic bid would depend on whether Istanbul in comparatively nearby Turkey won the 2020 vote. At least, with the European Games, the Azeris will have a perfect stage on which to demonstrate their Olympic potential before the next Games hosting round.
Azerbaijan’s Sports Ministry played a significant role in hosting an AIPS Youth Reporters course during the country’s hosting of the recent FIFA Women's Under-17 World Cup.
This was the first time FIFA had taken a women's championship to a Muslim country and officials were impressed with the work of the Azeris.
Senior organising committee member Anastasia Tsichlas said: “From the moment I arrived . . . I was so impressed with Baku but more importantly, the people. Generally speaking, everything was wonderful."
In the two years after securing the event Azerbaijan - located in the eastern part of the South Caucasus, on the western shore of the Caspian Sea - built three new stadia and eight training stadiums. A new stadium is being built in the heart of Baku which will be the cdentrepiece for the European Games.
The EOC meeting had been switched from Israel because of security concerns last month after the outbreak of violence across the Gaza border.
It approved a list of 15 sports for the European Games, including archery, badminton, boxing, canoeing, fencing, handball, judo, rugby sevens, shooting, taekwondo, table tennis, triathlon and volleyball.
Jacques Rogge, IOC president, was unable to attend the meeting of the EOC - of which he was once president - because of snow at Geneva airport.