By Zjan Shirinian

The 500 day countdown to the first ever European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan has begun ©Baku 2015January 28 - The 500-day countdown to the start of the inaugural European Games in Baku has begun, with organisers promising they are "on target to host a spectacular festival of sport".

Sports qualification information will begin to be sent to the 49 National Olympic Committees (NOC) taking part in the Games in Azerbaijan's capital this week.

It has also been confirmed that seven sports on the Baku 2015 programme will use the Games as a qualifying platform for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

They are: cycling, shooting, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon and beach volleyball.

Other sports could yet join that list.

The European Games, which will open on June 12, is the fulfilment of a long-held aspiration by the European Olympic Committees (EOC) to stage a major pan-continental, multi-sport event.

"I wish Baku well as it enters the final 500 days of Games preparations, and I am confident that Baku will stage a high quality sporting event that will make Europe proud," said EOC, Patrick Hickey.

"We congratulate everyone involved in Baku 2015 for reaching this important milestone, and for the continued progress in preparing to stage a spectacular sporting event and experience for the athletes and nations of Europe."

Organisers of the Baku 2015 European Games say construction remains on target at the venues ©Baku 2015Organisers of the Baku 2015 European Games claim construction remains on target at the venues ©Baku 2015

Eighteen sports are currently on the programme for Baku 2015, with more than 5,400 athletes expected to participate.

Azerbaijan Minister of Youth And Sports Azad Rahimov, who is chief executive of Baku 2015, said: "The large scale building projects for the Games will provide benefits for our cities, communities and young people for decades to come – from the new airport to the 13 transport upgrades to boost the underground and bus systems.

"While the new world-class venues will inspire more young people to participate in sport and provide a new home for sport in Europe."

Detailed planning to ensure local Azerbaijani residents and communities can participate in the event - the largest the country has hosted - through ticketing, volunteering, culture and other key Games programmes is also underway.

Organisers claim construction remains on target for Games venues, with some set to be ready for test events as early as this year.

"Good progress is being made and momentum is continuing to build, but there will be no complacency among our teams," said Jim Scherr, chief operating officer of Baku 2015.

"There is a great deal that still needs to be done during the next 500 days to fulfil our responsibilities to the European Olympic Committees, the people of Azerbaijan and the athletes of Europe, but we are pleased with our progress to date."

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