Chef de Mission, Montenegro
1) Why has it taken so long for Europe to stage its first continental Games?
Well I’m not sure about that. I think that sport is changing all the time, so 20 years ago you had only the Olympic Games. Now you have the Mediterranean Games, you have Beach Games, you have many, many other multi-sport events. You can see also the rules in the sports are changing so I think that it is new trend now to have more participants, more athletes at every event to connect people with athletes. Sport is adjusting to the new times, the new rules and the new trends so basically, sport is also going through an evolution. Who knows what is going to happen in 20 or 30 years? I can see also in football there is a trend to have 24 teams at the European Championship. The number of participants is very important for each sport, for each organisation. Ten years ago it was elite sport. Now it’s not so much elite. It’s something between sport for all and elite sport.
2) What makes Baku the perfect host city to stage the inaugural European Games?
Well when we’re speaking about multi-sport events, it’s obvious that countries that don't have a very good economy cannot apply for organisation because you need to have a lot of high-level facilities, you need to have good transportation, you need to have good airports, you need to have a lot of infrastructure, so I think Baku is the perfect place. It’s a modern city. It's a city with good facilities, with a good transportation system. I think also people are very into it - it’s important for them. I saw that they’re ready to do as much as they can to have a very good Games and it’s not easy to organise such an important multi-sport event for the first time.
3) How big do you think your team for Baku 2015 will be and how many sports will you be represented in?
We’ll have a solid team with I think at least 50 athletes plus 30 to 40 officials. Hopefully we’ll have more than 100 but for now qualifications are not finished and we need to wait a little bit longer to have a clear situation on who is going to participate. What is very important for us is that we’re going to give to our younger athletes and also our other athletes a very good opportunity to meet their colleagues from Europe at a multi-sport event and to feel the Olympic spirit. That’s s good thing. So hopefully we will have more than 60 athletes and maybe we’ll have more than 100, but we’ll see.
4) How important is it for the success and appeal of the European Games that some sports afford athletes the opportunity to qualify for Olympic Games?
Well the Olympic Games for sure is the goal and the dream of every athlete and it's not easy to qualify for the Olympic Games, so only elite athletes can be afforded the opportunity to be part of the Olympic Games. Now we have the European Games. It’s similar, it's not the same. It’s much easier to qualify for the European Games but it's also an opportunity to motivate young athletes. Maybe if they’re not good enough to be at the Olympic Games, they still have the quality to be at the European Games and for them it’s very important. It’s motivating them to train more, to do more, because this is, in my opinion, one step before the Olympic Games.
5) What is the significance of the Games for the European Olympic Movement and how confident are you that they will become sport’s flagship event on the continent?Well I’m not sure that the European Games are going to be the main event in Europe because sport is now expanding. You have many, many high-level sporting events that are attracting a lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of sponsors. They’re very well covered by mobile media so it’s not easy to be the best event, especially with this being the first time that the European Games has been organised, so I think that the European Games needs some time to establish itself, to have tradition, then we can speak about whether the European Games are going to be the best European sport event. But I think that is a new page of how sport is organised and a new page of sport history. I think this is a good example, to collect all the athletes from Europe, to put them at the Olympic Village, to give them an opportunity to meet other champions in other sports. Olympic values are not just sport, it’s more and at the same time, not many athletes have the opportunity to participate at the Olympic Games to feel this. Also Olympic Games are every four years, which is a long time, so when you have the Olympic Games and then the European Games you can involve much more people in the Olympic story and the Olympic team and they will have some Olympic events every two years that is important. So I think that is a good basis. Also I know how much the [Baku 2015] Organising Committee is doing in its efforts to have a good Games, to have everything prepared very well, to have optimal conditions for all athletes, so I think that it’s going to be one very significant sporting event in Europe and hopefully for a couple of editions of the European Games this is going to be one of the best.
6) How impressed have you been by the facilities to be used for the European Games and the work of the Baku 2015 Organising Committee in ensuring their delivery and readiness?
I must say, because I have been involved in many, many multi-sport events, that facilities are important but they're not the most important thing in [preparing for a] Games. You have a minimal technical requirement and you have to fulfil that regarding facilities, and this I think is the easy part because you only need money and time to have everything prepared. The other part which is the most important thing for preparing for a Games is the people who are going to be involved. I have been involved in many multi-sport events like the Olympic Games and the Mediterranean Games, and they [often] have very good facilities, but the volunteers are not so good. Also people who are working in the organisations don't [always] know much about sport, about their jobs so we have a problem. I think that in Baku we will have both things at a very high level. For sure, all venues are going to be perfect and also at the same time, I've met many people from the Organising Committee. They're doing a very professional job and they also have the will and motivation to give their best. They’re very open so I think that the European Games in Baku are going to be an example of how they should be organised. They’re going to have great facilities, but also what is one of the most important things, [they're going to have] people, who are open, who are motivated, who are ready to avoid some procedures just to help you, so I think that it’s going to be a great experience for our athletes.
7) Are there any sports not represented that you would like to see in the European Games?
I would like for example to see basketball as well, as basketball 3x3, but I think that it’s a good sports programme.
8) How symbolic is it that the first ever European Games will take place in a country that has experienced a major re-birth of its own since gaining independence in 1991?
First of all I know that Azerbaijan is a very young country and also Montenegro is a very young country. We became independent in 2006, so we've only been independent for nine years. I feel the similarities. That’s the basic thing and I know that it’s not easy to establish a good national federation in such a short period of time.
9) How interested do you think the public in your country will be in the Games?
I think that they’re going to be very interested, mostly because we’ve already organised a couple of press conferences, there are many articles in our newspapers and the media about the European Games in Baku. Also I know that our media has huge interest in the Games in Baku and they’re familiar with the team that is going to participate and represent Montenegro at the European Games. In Montenegro it’s not hard to motivate people to watch sport, because our athletes here really are role models. They’re our examples of how people should be and I also think that we will have full-on passion during the European Games at Baku, especially before during the preparation of the Games.
10) What are you looking forward to most at Baku 2015?
This is first time that the European Games are going to be organised. I’m looking forward to seeing how everything is going to be, especially with such a huge number of athletes that we’re going to have. Also I can hardly wait to experience Azerbaijan culture and meet Azerbaijan colleagues during the Games.
Interview by Daniel Etchells