Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the ceremony dedicated to sport results of 2016

23 December 2016, 10:15
Speech by Ilham Aliyev at the ceremony dedicated to sport results of 2016

Dear athletes,

Ladies and gentlemen!

We traditionally meet with sportsmen at the end of every year. This tradition is about 20 years old. Each year, we award our sportsmen, congratulate them on their achievements, and we are adhering to this tradition this year too, of course.

I have been conducting such meetings as president of the National Olympic Committee for about 20 years. I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to express my gratitude to all members of the National Olympic Committee for electing me to the position of president again this year. I want to reiterate that the successful development of sport and the Olympic movement will continue to be in the spotlight.

The work we have done over the past 19 years is evident. Today, Azerbaijan is already known in the world as a strong sports nation. We have achieved brilliant sporting successes. We have been expanding on our athletic performance and achievements every year. If we pay attention to the results of Summer Olympic Games, we can see that the number of medals won by Team Azerbaijan has been increasing from Games to Games. So this is a positive dynamics. In fact, dynamics is the key factor in analyzing any issue. We are in constant development. I am sure that the positive momentum will be maintained in the future too, although it will be difficult to emulate the result of the latest Olympic Games. At the same time, I remember quite well that every time we analyzed our performance in Summer Olympic Games since 2000, we had similar thoughts that a good result had been achieved and it would be difficult to repeat it. However, not only did we repeat these results in all subsequent Games, we actually improved them.

This year, our athletes have won hundreds of medals in international competitions. In other words, Azerbaijan's flag flies in all international competitions. Azerbaijan is adequately represented in all international sporting events - among adults, among young people and among adolescents. In recent years, we have grown a generation of very strong athletes. Our young people, the athletes who were born and grew up in the period of independence, are now multiplying our sporting glory. Year 2016 will occupy a special place in the sporting history of our country. First of all, because we have won a historic victory at the Summer Olympics in Rio this year! More than 200 countries participated in the Games. This is a huge and historic victory, which is a testament to the strength of our athletes and state. After all, sport develops only in developed and strong countries, which achieve excellent results. If we look at the list of the most successful countries, we can see that the vast majority of them are rich and developed countries. These are countries with a long tradition of statehood. We are only 25 years old. This year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the restoration of our independence, and the victory of our athletes was a perfect gift for this holiday.

I should also note one thing: the sports community of Azerbaijan is well aware of that and I want this also to be known to all our citizens. For the number of medals, we are in 7th place among the European countries, in 14th worldwide, second in the CIS and the former Soviet Union, and first in the Muslim world. Once again, I want to congratulate all our athletes, coaches and the entire sporting community on this brilliant victory. The great victory won in Rio also suggests that the successes achieved in the European Games in Baku last year were not accidental. We achieved a good result in those Games as well, won 56 medals and finished second in the team competition. I want to bring another indicator of the Rio Olympic Games to your attention. We were represented by 56 athletes in the Games and won 18 medals. According to this indicator, we are in first place globally.

The European Games held in Baku last year demonstrated the level of sport development in our country once again. They showed yet again that we are a strong state. To finish second in a very tense competition with all European countries at these Games is indeed a great victory and heroism. You probably remember it too well and, of course, so do I. A dirty campaign orchestrated against Azerbaijan before, during and after the Games represented an attempt to tarnish the Games, belittle our capabilities and the victory of our athletes. It was speculated that Azerbaijan is a host country of the Games, which is why the results are high. The victory we won in the Summer Olympics in Rio is a weighty blow to these dirty rumors. Last year, we showed great sports results. At the same time, the holding of these Games was highly appreciated by the entire international sports community. I have attended many Olympic Games and can compare them to each other. Therefore, I want to note once again that the Games we organized in Baku were in no way inferior to any Summer Olympic Games. In many ways, these Games can serve as an example for Summer Olympic Games. I know that now our experience is being studied now.

Such are our sporting results. We are achieving great victories in international competitions, world championships and Olympic Games. At the same time, we are capable of organizing any large-scale international competition. I would also like to mention again that we had only two years to prepare for the European Games. The work that would usually take years, perhaps seven to eight years, we did in a matter of two years. In the run-up to these Games, we created and overhauled the most modern sports infrastructure in Baku. Today, our sports facilities serve the people and athletes. The new grand Olympic Stadium, the Aquatic Palace, the Shooting Center and other renovated sports facilities meet the highest standards. We can host any international sporting event in the future too.

Of course, the European Games have had a positive impact on the promotion of our country. Even after the Games we took the necessary steps to host international events in Baku.

The fact that the Formula-1 event was held in Baku this year has once again demonstrated the power of our country. The right to host Formula-1 is not allowed to every country. Not every country can take on this responsibility. It is difficult. We have successfully hosted this competition. The fact that Formula-1 events are held in Azerbaijan is of special importance for the promotion of our country. This competition with an audience of 500 million viewers was watched on every continent. The whole world could see the beauty of our city and the hospitality of the people. It is no coincidence that the number of visitors to our country increased after the competition. We had envisaged and planned that, and it has increased! The number of tourists coming to Azerbaijan from some countries has increased 30-40 times, and this process is still under way. Today, Azerbaijan is known worldwide as a powerful country with the most modern infrastructure, excellent level of service and a place where security is provided. A synthesis of all these factors has turned Azerbaijan into a very attractive country for foreign tourists. If we add to this a wonderful climate, excellent cuisine, historic monuments and the presence of nine climatic zones, we can become further convinced that we are a truly happy people because we live in such a beautiful country and are making it even more beautiful.

Therefore, we will reap the benefits of the Formula-1 competition for years to come. The income from tourism strengthens the economy of the country, serves the creation of new jobs and provides economic diversification. Next year we will host Islamic Solidarity Games, and this is very symbolic. One and the same country and city host European and Islamic Games in a matter of two years. This demonstrates our intent because sporting events, including the European Games, are not just a competition, they are also a celebration of friendship and solidarity.

As you know, this year has been declared a "Year of Multiculturalism" in Azerbaijan. during this year, we have held many important events. The fact that Azerbaijan hosts Islamic and European Games further promotes and glorifies the ideas of multiculturalism. I am confident that we will host Islamic Games at the highest level because we have the experience. There are about six months left for the start of the Games. All the essential preparatory work has been practically completed. Of course, the costs of these games are very low because we have all the infrastructure and high organizational skills. I am sure that the athletes participating in this competition will leave Baku with the most pleasant impressions.

Baku has recently hosted the World Chess Olympiad, which is second most prestigious event for the number of countries only to Olympic Games. We are already known in the world as a sports center. At the same time, if in some cases a certain country is unable to host a world championship for whatever reason, they turn to Baku. This has happened recently. We are capable of hosting such a championship very quickly and without any additional preparations. In other words, this is already a fact, and international sports organizations and international federations know that. If there is a problem somewhere, they know that they can turn to us and we, of course, can organize any competition in a short time and at the highest level. This is a reality we have created ourselves. Nobody has helped us. On the contrary, for all these years some anti-Azerbaijani circles have been trying to cast a shadow on our achievements, disparage and slander on us. But all this had no effect because the result is obvious, and the people of Azerbaijan have always demonstrated solidarity. We are always together in protecting our national interests, and this public support, of course, makes my work a lot easier. We always express our principled position on any issue. Our cause is just. This is evidenced by our sporting successes and achievements in other areas.

Of course, this success is underpinned by the professionalism and dedication of the athletes and coaches. At the same time, it is a state policy. The development of sports is our state policy. The creation of sports infrastructure continues. We have created more than 40 modern Olympic sports centers in the regions. Next year, we will open two more Olympic sports centers in Absheron and Agjabadi Districts. The construction of several sports facilities is also under way. We will continue to work in this direction in the coming years, so that most modern sports facilities are available in every district. Most of our cities have such opportunities today, and those that don’t will soon have them.

We must always keep the focus on public nature of sport because we certainly need good results and victories. At the same time, we need a healthy youth. Every young person should engage in sports. We must try to make sure that there are no youngsters not doing sports because everyone engaged in sport can see the excellent results of this in their life, physical, moral and psychological condition. Athletes are healthy both physically and mentally. They are patriots. They promote our homeland. They are our ambassadors. They perform under the flag of Azerbaijan. Therefore, their spirit of patriotism is very high. They are also physically strong. Measures are being taken to attract children and young people engaged to sport clubs. We are expanding our geography and need to try to encourage people to do sports.

This year is coming to an end. I would like to reiterate that we have won many sporting victories this year. I am sure that our athletes will delight us with more victories next year. I congratulate all the athletes and sport professionals of Azerbaijan on the upcoming New Year and the Day of Solidarity of World Azerbaijanis, and wish you continued success. Thank you!