Baku 2015 First LadyAzerbaijan's First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva is playing an active role in ensuring that Baku hosts a successful inaugural European Games next year.

She is not just head of the Organising Committee but actively involved in overseeing the preparations. This has included greeting and being involved in the work of the Coordination Commission set up by the European Olympic Committees when they travel to the Azerbaijani capital to check on how things are going. It is a sign of how well things have been progressing that the Commission have ended each of their three visits full of praise for the organisation.

"Today Azerbaijan is known as a country of sport, and holding respected competitions has become a tradition here," said the First Lady. "European and World Championships are held regularly in Azerbaijan. Both our guests and experts confirm that these events are held at the highest level."

Her enthusiasm for the first-ever European Games stems from the fact that she knows how important they are, not only to Azerbaijan but also the future of sport in the continent.

"The first European Games to be held in Azerbaijan will become the start of a new era in the sports movement," said the First Lady. "And Azerbaijan will be the country to write this first page of history. No such event had been held so far. Notwithstanding that the Olympic Movement was born in Europe and then was again rehabilitated in Europe, Continental Games had been held in other continents, and we have been favoured with holding the first such Games in Europe.

"I would like to underline that the people of Azerbaijan highly appreciate these Games and realise the country's responsibility for making them a success. At the same time, the Government of Azerbaijan has been providing all types of support to these Games.

"We are doing everything possible to make sure that they are held successfully and that European athletes can perform at the highest level."

1375812 567351610001102 1306679785 nThe First Lady heads a Committee of 30 people including the country's Youth and Sports Minister Azad Rahimov, who is the chief executive of Baku 2015 ©Baku2015

The First Lady heads a Committee of 30 people, which includes Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Finance Minister Samir Sharifov and Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, along with the country's Youth and Sports Minister Azad Rahimov, who is the chief executive of Baku 2015.

"The Government of Azerbaijan attaches special emphasis to preparations for the first European Games," said the First Lady. "The city residents and the entire sport community of the country are following the course of the preparatory work with interest. I believe this support will help us. We will do our best to use the Baku 2015 European Games to set a benchmark.

"The preparations will end on time, which is evidenced by the speed of construction work at Water Sports Palace, National Gymnastics Arena, Baku Shooting Center, Baku Olympic Stadium and other facilities, and reconstruction of the existing sport infrastructure."

The First Lady's love of sport is well-known.

Besides her role with Baku, she is also a member of the ruling Executive Committee of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan, which is headed by her husband, the country's President Ilham Aliyev. She will, of course, be following all the sports closely during Baku 2015 but no-one will be surprised if she pays special attention to the gymnastics.

Azerbaijans President Ilham Aliyev opens National Gymnastics Arena Baku 2015The First Lady was appointed President of the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation in 2002 ©Baku2015

The First Lady was appointed President of the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation in 2002 and since then the country has established itself as one of the sport's leading nations, hosting several major events, including the 2005 World Rhythmic Championships, the 2007 and 2009 European Rhythmic Championships. It will host the European Championships for a third time this month in the newly-built National Gymnastics Arena.

Away from sport, the First Lady is well known for her charity work and philanthropy. She founded the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, establishing it in honour of the late Heydar Aliyev. Among its projects are helping fund the building of schools and hospitals and hosting cultural events. Other initiatives have included helping build the Baku Museum of Modern Art.

Recently, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation unveiled ambitious plans for the funding of social projects aimed at disadvantaged children in Hungary, Romania and other Eastern Europe countries. In France, the First Lady was awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 2010 by then President Nicolas Sarkozy in recognition of her "outstanding service and loyalty". She had been instrumental in arranging her foundation's support for renovation projects at the Louvre, Versailles Palace and Strasbourg Cathedral.