Baku will host the European Judo Championships controversially taken away from Glasgow in conjunction with the inaugural European Games, it was confirmed today.
insidethegames had reported on Thursday (February 19) that the event was set to be awarded to the Azerbaijan capital after the European Judo Union (EJU) withdrew Glasgow's right to host them following a row over sponsorship.
The news is a major boost for the European Games, scheduled to take place between June 12 and 28, as it means the number of sports offering Olympic qualification opportunities for Rio 2016 has now risen to 12 of the 16 sports on the Baku 2015 programme, out of a total of 20 sports.
"This is wonderful news as we approach the final lap of our preparations for the inaugural European Games," said Patrick Hickey, President of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) and a former judoka.
"The EOC has always intended for European Championships to become part of the European Games and this agreement indicates that our aim is coming true, even earlier than we had anticipated.
"I am sure other sports will follow suit at future editions of the European Games and that the event will become one of the main qualification routes for the Olympic Games.
"For now, I am very much looking forward to welcoming the best judoka in Europe to Baku in June, as well as judo fans from around the world.
"A great sports event starts and ends with great sport, and integrating the European Championships here means there will be even more top-class quality on show."
The EJU had announced last week that they were cancelling the event in Glasgow because the "British Judo Association does not fit the EJU criteria to host the EJU flagship event".
It followed a dispute over the signing of the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a sponsor of the event, which had been due to take place at the Emirates Arena in the Scottish city between April 9 and 12.
The European governing body had claimed the deal "did not meet the EJU values".
Last year, International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer had warned that a migration of judokas to other sports would represent a "spiritual contamination" of the sport amid fears that top stars were being lured to mixed martial arts.
"We are delighted that our flagship competition, the European Judo Championships, is going to be held in Baku this year," said Sergey Soloveychik, President of the EJU.
"After the cancellation of the event in Glasgow, our priority was to find a new host as quickly as possible.
"We have done this and I am very happy with our choice. Baku 2015 has a world-class judo venue with supporting facilities which will help Europe's elite judoka reach peak performance in June.
"I am certain that we have made the best choice for European athletes and that the conditions will be most favourable for our main event.
"For all the judo fans who have already bought their tickets for Emirates Arena in Glasgow they will have an opportunity to get free tickets to the judo venue in Baku."
Paris and Israel had offered to step in after the Championships in Glasgow was cancelled.
But Soloveychik praised the role of Hickey and Vizer in ensuring that the Championships were able to be switched to Baku, which will host the tournament in the newly upgraded 7,800-capacity Heydar Aliyev Arena on June 25 until 28.
"Being judoka, they showed solidarity with the EJU and their devotion to the spirit of judo," he said.
"I am confident that the best judoka in Europe will all be present at Baku 2015 and I have no doubt they will feel incredibly welcome and well-supported in Azerbaijan."
Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan's Minister of Youth and Sport and the Baku 2015 chief executive, added:
"We were delighted to accept the chance to incorporate the European Judo Championships into the European Games when the opportunity was presented to us.
"This decision further strengthens the European Games with 12 of the 16 Olympic Sports now offering direct or indirect qualifying opportunities for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro."
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February 2015: British Judo Association concede defeat in bid to reverse decision to cancel Glasgow European Championships
February 2015: Glasgow stripped of 2015 European Judo Championships after sponsorship row
February 2015: Glasgow threatened with loss of European Judo Championships after UFC sponsorship deal
February 2015: UFC to help support 2015 European Judo Championships in Glasgow
November 2014: Former BJA chairman takes top role in mixed martial arts despite "spiritual contamination" warning from Vizer