The countdown to Europe’s first continental multi-sport Games is officially over after the Opening Ceremony of Baku 2015, which saw a sold-out Olympic Stadium in the Azerbaijan’s capital city treated to spectacular performances, including from international music star Lady Gaga.
The Ceremony was held in front of a 68,000 crowd with several dignitaries in attendance, including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and European Olympic Committees (EOC) President Patrick Hickey, in addition to Azerbaijan’s President Ilyam Aliyev, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Hickey played the key role in the establishment of the European Games, which will be held until June 28 and spoke of adding the “missing fifth ring” to the Continental Games of the world, prior to the official announcement Aliyev officially announcing the Games open.
“It is a historic day in the European Olympic Movement,” he said.
“Thank you Azerbaijan for your welcome to the Olympic family, it has been an exciting journey,”
“Sport has a unique power to bring change.
“A universal law of sport, ethics, fair play, respect and friendship.
“Six thousand athletes from 50 nations are here and close to something remarkable, you only have one chance to become the first ever European Games champion.
“I urge you to write your name forever into European sporting history."
Created by Greek artistic director Dimitris Papaioannou the Ceremony began with a focus on the Azerbaijan’s history and culture, featuring national literature, symbols and festivals.
A countdown from 24 to zero, to the beat of 50 drummers, opened the two-hour spectacle, marking 24-years since the restoration of the country's independence.
They were accompanied by around 1,000 dancers in patterned skirts to celebrate the country’s famous carpets with a colourful display prior to the host nation’s flag being raised and national anthem played.
In a section titled “The First Flame” the European Games torch was brought into the stadium by double Paralmypic judoka gold medallist Ilham Zakiyev having completed a journey of nearly 5,500 kilometres, after being carried by 1,000 Torchbearers, after being captured from the earth at Baku’s sacred fire temple Ateshgah.
With Azerbaijan’s heritage a constant theme of the opening half of the Ceremony one of the country’s best-known acts of literature featuring lovers Leyli and Majnun by performers, featuring historic poet Nizami, before a giant pomegranate, a national symbol, descended in the centre of the stadium before bursting open as a token of abundance, rebirth, love and good luck.
The segment preceded the entrance of the 50 competing nations at the Games, with most nations greeted by applause from the crowd, including Kosovo the EOC’s newest member nation, having been confirmed as an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member last November.
However clear tensions between the host nation and Armenia, which have shown signs of escalation in recent months, were in evidence as they were met by a hostile reception in the stadium, including chants and boos from the crowd.
The animosity between the two nations has been one of the major concerns regarding Azerbaijan’s hosting of the Games, whilst a clampdown on human rights and freedom of the media have been highlighted in recent months, with human rights organisation Amnesty International and several journalist banned from entering the country just days before the Ceremony.
A differing image was projected during the conclusion of the Parade of Nations as the headline act of the Ceremony, American music star Lady Gaga, sang John Lennon’s song “Imagine” which has a central message of imagining a world at peace and without borders.
Similarly acts focused on international unity, displayed by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and a focus on Europe’s shared history in a segment on the mythical princess Europa sought to continue this theme.
The Baku 2015 flame was lit amid a focus on Novruz, one of the most important festivals in Azerbaijanm which celebrates the wind, water, earth and fire, before the Ceremony concluded with a spectacular fireworks display while all the 2,000 performers engaged in national dance Yalli.
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