By Duncan Mackay

Azerbaijan's First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, together with Sports Minister and Baku 2015 chief executive Azad Rahimov, welcomed European Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey at the start of the latest visit of the European Games Coordination Commission ©Baku 2015April 3 - More than 6,000 athletes in 19 sports will compete at the inaugural European Games in Baku, it was announced today as preparations for the event were praised as being "in very good shape".

The new figure was revealed following the official confirmation that athletics will be part of the programme as the European Olympic Committees (EOC) Coordination Commission, chaired by the President of the Hellenic Olympic Committee Spyros Capralos, begun its latest visit to the Azerbaijan capital.

The Coordination Commission was accompanied by Patrick Hickey, President of the EOC, the architect behind the creation of the Games.

 "Since we were here last October we have been very impressed by the progress," Hickey told insidethegames

"We have absolutely no worries about construction, everything is on target.

"They are in very good shape."

European Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey met Azerbaijan leader Ilham Aliyev to discuss Baku 2015 ©Official website of the President of AzerbaijanEuropean Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey met Azerbaijan leader Ilham Aliyev to discuss Baku 2015 ©Official website of the President of Azerbaijan

It was confirmed that European Athletics Team Championships 3rd League, which includes Azerbaijan's team, will be incorporated into the European Games.

There will also be a special street athletics event along Baku's promenade which it is hoped to invite Europe's top athletes to take part in.

"We do not want the European Games to be a carbon copy of other Games, we want to be innovative," said Hickey, who held a private meeting with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.

"The EOC and Baku 2015 have already gone down that road and we will continue to do so,"

Hickey is optimistic that athletics will play an even bigger role at the 2019 European Games but is nevertheless delighted that the first edition is featuring so many sports and that some will be qualifying events for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

These include shooting, where the winners of each of the 15 events will be guaranteed a place at Rio 2016, table tennis and triathlon, where the men and women's champions in both sports will also qualify automatically for the Olympics. 

Vital ranking points will be available in beach volleyball, cycling and taekwondo while athletics and swimming will offer an opportunity for athletes to achieve qualifying marks for Rio 2016. 

"I always like to remind myself that we had only decided to kick this Games off with 12 sports and now we are at 19," Hickey told insidethegames.

"We can't take any more because there is no room left in the Olympic Village.

"We never expected that sports would use it as an Olympic qualifier for Rio and we now have eight sports using it as a qualifier.

"So this is a real bonus."

The 3rd European Olympic Committees Coordination Commission heard that more than 6,000 athletes will compete in 19 sports at Baku 2015 ©Baku 2015The 3rd European Olympic Committees Coordination Commission heard that more than 6,000 athletes will compete in 19 sports at Baku 2015 ©Baku 2015

The opening session was preceded by a meeting between Hickey and Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan's First Lady, the chair of Baku 2015.

"Our people are proud to be playing part in the creation of sporting history and the Government is fully committed to providing the support necessary to make the First European Games a success and a great experience for the athletes of Europe," said Aliyeva. 

"Work across all of the Azerbaijani Government ministries involved in the Games has continued unabated with our priorities focused on venue completion, transportation systems and security.

"The National Gymnastics Arena is almost complete and is a venue that demonstrates our desire to create world class sporting facilities that deliver outstanding conditions for the athletes and a lasting legacy for the people of Baku and Azerbaijan."

Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan's Minister for Youth and Sport and chief executive of Baku 2015, claimed that the fact athletes could qualify in some events for Rio 2016 will encourage some of the continent's top names to travel to Baku 2015, which is due to open on June 12 and last until June 28. 

"The team has worked tirelessly on the sports programme and competition schedule and the support of the European Olympic Committees has managed to secure the inclusion of an athletics event in our magnificent new main stadium," he said.

"Of equal importance is the confirmation that no less than eight of the sports on the programme will double as Olympic qualification events for Rio 2016.

"This is the greatest possible tribute to the vision of President Hickey and the EOC Executive Committee to creating the inaugural European Games one year prior to the Olympic Games offering an incredible incentive to encourage the top athletes in Europe to include the Games in their plans."

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