Destination Baku: the Land of Fire burning in the spirit of competition as it will host the first European Games 2015 in June.
The population of Azerbaijan nears 10m and almost half of the population is under the age of 30. But Baku, a city of 2.5m (roughly the size of Pars) is steeped in a rich tapestry of history and the first historical reference to its name was in 886 AD and other historical evidence hints at its existence before Christ. Other Empires came before but the city became the capital of the Azerbaijan republic in 1920.
So when not enjoying a variety of competitive sports including (but not limited to): Judo, beach football, sambo, athletics, wrestling and volleyball there is much to view in Baku.
Inside the city limits are places of historical wonder that demonstrate Islam’s historic roots – the Dzhuma-Mechet minaret was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000 alongside the mausoleum of the famous astronomer Seida Bakuvi, the Palace of the Shīrvān-Shāhs, Maiden’s Tower and a law court (Divan-Khan).
Nor is the city (or country) exclusively steeped in Islamic city. For Christians, Jews and others, the country provides historical sites of religious interest. Baku has a strong intellectual tradition and was the birthplace of some prominent thinkers who’ve won the prestigious Nobel Prize for Physics or those who’ve helped man into space.
For Baku, and other Azeri, to host the very first European Games in an immense honour, and a chance for the country to build a platform of success, as it confidently stands out from the shadow of perhaps more well-known countries in that region.
Jeyran the Gazelle and Nar the Pomegranate are the official mascots, a fun and colourful way to highlight a sense of history and forward-thinking future (even if some in the country were not that happy with the design).
So as the Games will be opened and celebrated in Azerbaijan, it will provide the globe with an insight into a country that has so much to offer. Apart from the Games, the hospitality of the Azeris is legendary, and so are many of their very large dishes, so anyone going out to Games will need to ensure that they have plenty of room for some of the delicacies on offer.
In the arena of sport it’s important to get behind Team GB as they continue preparations for the event. Right now, Team GB will be competing it at least 14 events and others will be volunteering as ‘Flamekeepers’ – think ‘Games Makers’ from our very proud Olympics of 2012 with an Azeri twist.
Sport is unifying and translates across borders, languages, faiths and cultures. It speaks to us in a universal language and for our part we should look forward to June because this is a unique opportunity for individuals to enjoy a range of sports in a country with an exciting history, dynamic outlook and a chance to learn about a country beyond its sponsorship of some prominent football clubs.