Mariana Vasileva has claimed Azerbaijan wants to develop "every single discipline" in the country ©Azerbaijan Ministry of Youth and Sports

Azerbaijan's Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Minister Mariana Vasileva has claimed here the country remains keen to host major sports events to provide "opportunities to the young generation".

The ongoing World Taekwondo Championships adds to a list of international competitions held in the country's capital Baku since the inaugural European Games in 2015, and was described by Vasileva as a "great honour" to host.

"The fact we're hosting so many events is supported by the Government because sport is a common language everyone understands connecting people, and it gives such great opportunities to the young generation coming from even the tiniest village to get to choose their own discipline that they like," she told insidethegames.

"That's why we want to make sure every single discipline is developed in this country.

"At the same time it creates opportunity for youth, for example if someone likes karate, curling or skating."

Vasileva pointed to the re-opening of a skating hall in Baku as an example of how sport is being developed in the country.

Several venues were constructed for the European Games, including the 68,000-capacity Baku Olympic Stadium and the National Gymnastics Arena.

The Deputy Minister served as the host nation's rhythmic gymnastics head coach at Baku 2015, and acknowledged the Games' role in putting Azerbaijan on the sporting map.

"First of all it is very important to thank the President of the country and the vice-president," Vasileva said.

"The fact we hosted those first European Games in 2015 prepared us for future events taking place at the moment.

"So many facilities were built.

"A good example would be the Gymnastics Arena.

"The European Games gave a chance for all the countries in Europe to participate, and at the Gymnastics Arena we managed to host two additional disciplines that we haven't hosted previously in Azerbaijan - aerobic and trampoline."

Mariana Vasileva described it as a
Mariana Vasileva described it as a "great honour" to host the World Taekwondo Championships in Baku ©World Taekwondo

Despite the boost in profile from hosting the European Games, Azerbaijan faced and has continued to face accusations of using events for attempted sportswashing.

Ilham Aliyev has led the country since 2003 and is also the country's National Olympic Committee President.

Oil and gas revenue has been credited with providing an economic boom, but Aliyev's regime has been characterised as authoritarian with crackdowns on press freedom and dissident activists.

Human rights campaigners have also expressed concerns over the treatment of LGBTQ+ people of Azerbaijan.

Vasileva referenced her own experience as a Bulgarian-born rhythmic gymnast who relocated to Baku with her immediate family in defending Azerbaijan's motives for hosting sports events.

"First of all it is good that we hosted all those sports events, because if those sceptics thought differently, now after hosting so many events we have proved that Azerbaijan is a democratic state," she claimed

"There are various reasons for that.

"First of all we have so many different minorities in terms of ethnicities and religions.

"There is a big Jewish community and a big Christian community and they live in peace and it has always been like this.

"The fact I have lived here for 15 years and I never felt different from any other citizen of this country, and what is even more important is that in this country, the citizens of this country will always try to do his or her best to help the citizens of other countries.

"Even if people see you lost in the street, they will approach you and start asking questions.

"Sometimes people take that a bit differently, but it is because they want to help."

Azerbaijan has faced accusations of sportswashing through its staging of major events, but Mariana Vasileva defended the country's motives and insisted sports gives
Azerbaijan has faced accusations of sportswashing through its staging of major events, but Mariana Vasileva defended the country's motives and insisted sports gives "great opportunities to the young generation" ©Azerbaijan Ministry of Youth and Sports

Azerbaijan's team at their home European Games included several non-native athletes, including Ukrainian-born artistic gymnastics medallists Oleg Stepko and Petro Pakhniuk.

Vasileva said this had provided an opportunity to develop Azerbaijani-born athletes, judges and coaches through an influx of others to share international experience.

"It's very important to understand there is always room for change," she reflected.

"Legionaries are a great option in case some type of sport is not very well developed in the country.

"Legionaries are there to help participate and it is a common practice all around the world.

"In the beginning when legionaries came here, they also brought their legacy."

Vasileva was appointed as Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports in Azerbaijan in 2021.