Preparations are hotting up for the first-ever European Games, which will be held in Baku in June 2015. Teams and athletes are winning their places, TV companies are snapping up broadcast rights and auditions are under way for the exuberant opening and closing ceremonies.
Ancient and modern combined in spectacular fashion to celebrate the 200-day countdown to the Games: a 3D light show lit up Baku’s landmark Maiden Tower. Images of archery, basketball, boxing, cycling and fencing were projected onto the medieval monument. To round off the display, the Games’ new mascots, Jeyran and Nar, appeared.
Jeyran, the Azerbaijani word for gazelle, is a symbol of natural beauty, grace and purity. A protected species in Azerbaijan, the gazelle can be found in semi-desert parts of the country, especially the Shirvan National Park. The Games’ Jeyran mascot is a welcoming animal, eager to show off the best of Azerbaijan. The Nar mascot, meanwhile, is a playful pomegranate, who grew up near the town of Goychay, famed for the quality of its fruit. Full of life and energy, the Nar mascot loves trying out new sports.
Our mascots are important symbols of the inaugural European Games, Simon Clegg, Baku 2015 chief operating officer, said at the presentation of the mascots. Jeyran will be an elegant cultural ambassador for the Games and for the rich heritage of Azerbaijan. Nar represents the energy, enthusiasm and fun of the Games and will be seen explaining and getting involved with the sports at our venues.
Another image projected onto the Maiden Tower was the Games’ rebranding, launched in August. Central to the new brand is the pomegranate tree, which symbolises unity in Azerbaijani folklore. Interwoven with the branches of the tree are historical symbols of the country’s heritage and culture, along with eye-catching pictograms of the different sports and disciplines.
A major international website, Design Week has named the Games’ new look one of the biggest rebrands of 2014. The brand was developed by Baku 2015 European Games’ design team alongside London-based agency SomeOne.
Fans of volleyball, judo and basketball can start making their Baku 2015 plans, as the competing teams have been decided.
In volleyball, 24 men’s and women’s teams have qualified for the competition. Host country Azerbaijan will compete in both the men’s and women’s tournaments, with Russia the top seed in both contests. The other teams qualified in the men’s competition are, in ranked order, Italy, Serbia, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, France, Finland, Belgium, Slovakia and Turkey.
In the women’s competition, the other teams qualified, and also in ranked order, are Serbia, Italy, Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania.
With some of the top teams in Europe now qualified in both the men’s and women’s competitions, we will be guaranteed high-quality action once the European Games get under way, André Meyer, president of the European Volleyball Federation, commented.
Volleyball will be played in Baku’s Crystal Hall, with 16 days of competition culminating in the two gold medal matches.
Sixteen judokas from ten nations have qualified to be represented in Blind Judo. They are from Azerbaijan, France, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Hungary, Russia, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine.
In the men’s tournament, Ilham Zakiyev, who won Paralympic gold medals at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, and bronze in London 2012, will compete for Azerbaijan. To be selected to represent my country at the first European Games in Baku is a wonderful honour for me and I hope to make history as the first champion, Mr Zakiyev said. It is excellent that Blind Judo is included at Baku 2015, and I am very proud to have the opportunity to win a medal for Azerbaijan in the Heydar Aliyev Arena.
In the women’s competition, Germany’s Ramona Brussig, who won gold at London 2012, will be one of the favourites.
Blind Judo will take place on one day of competition, with medals in the men’s over 90 kg category and in the women’s under 57 kg category. The competition will be integrated into the Judo contest.
As host nation, Azerbaijan will take part in the Basketball 3x3 competition. Ireland’s women’s team have made history by securing their country’s first ever qualification for a major multi-sport event in Basketball.
In ranked order, the men’s competition will be contested by Romania, Slovenia, Lithuania, Greece, Serbia, Belgium, Spain, Estonia, Israel, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Andorra.
And also in ranked order, the women’s competition will see Russia, Slovenia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Switzerland, Ukraine, Spain, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Israel, Greece, Slovakia and Azerbaijan going for gold.
The Basketball 3x3 tournaments will take place over four days of competition at the temporary Basketball Arena, which will have capacity seating for 2,000 spectators. The game, played on a half-court with both teams shooting at the same hoop, is winning fans and players around the world.
Faces of Baku 2015
Baku 2015 organisers have announced high-profile international and local athletes to be ambassadors for the Games.
The faces of French rhythmic gymnast Kseniya Moustafaeva, Danish canoe sprinter René Holten Poulsen and Serbia’s Basketball 3x3 team will be seen across the continent in marketing campaigns and on social media to promote the Games.
Domović Bulut of the Serbian Basketball 3x3 team said: It is very exciting for an innovative sport like Basketball 3x3 to be included in a major multi-sport event such as the European Games, and we are sure that fans will love the speed and skill of our game. We are looking forward to competing against Europe’s other top teams at Baku 2015.
Eleven Azerbaijani athletes have been chosen as Games ambassadors. They are Sughra Mugabilzada (Archery), Nazim Babayev (Athletics), Amil Hamzayev (Basketball 3x3), Elgun Alizada and Murad Sultanov (Cycling), Sabina Mikina (Fencing), Marina Durunda (Gymnastics), Elmar Gasimov (Judo), Jeyran Aliyeva (Volleyball) and Rovshan Bayramov and Mariya Stadnik (Wrestling).
Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan’s minister of youth and sport and Baku 2015 chief executive officer, said: These athletes are some of the finest sportspeople in the country and they will prove to be excellent ambassadors for the European Games. We want them to help share the excitement surrounding Baku 2015 with the rest of the country, and I am sure their achievements will prove inspirational for young people all across Azerbaijan.
If dancing is more your thing, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies are for you. Auditions are under way to find performers who have passion, energy and a desire to represent their country in the brand new National Stadium on Friday 12 June.
Catherine Ugwu, Baku 2015 director of ceremonies and one of the executive producers for London 2012, said: The 6,000 volunteer performers will enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience when they appear in the largest live show that Azerbaijan has ever produced. The Baku 2015 Opening Ceremony will showcase the best of Azerbaijani art, culture and achievement as well as welcoming the athletes to Baku.
The artistic director of the Opening Ceremony is Dimitris Papaioannou, who masterminded the Athens 2004 Olympic Games’ ceremonies.
If you are inspired to shake your stuff, you can find out about the auditions via the Games website: http://www.baku2015.com/en/join-us/apply-now
The website is also the best place to keep up with the latest Games news, in between issues of Visions of Azerbaijan, that is.