President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva have met with the country’s athletes who succeeded in the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games.
The head of state made a speech at the event.
Speech by President Ilham Aliyev
– Dear friends, dear athletes!
You returned to your homeland from Konya a few days ago, and you have returned with a great victory. You have once again raised the sporting glory of our country. I would like to congratulate you on this occasion from the bottom of my heart and express my gratitude for the achievements you have made. I am sure that the people of Azerbaijan are proud of you because you have once again shown the whole world that Azerbaijan is a sports nation and Azerbaijani athletes are distinguished for their strength.
To become fourth in the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games is a tremendous achievement. This achievement shows that our previous successes were not accidental. As you know, our team won the first place in the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku five years ago. And that was also natural because home soil always provides extra support to athletes. This time, as a result of a very close competition, we finished the Games in fourth place. Let me also say that the countries were represented by the strongest athletes in the Games. Our athletes have once again shown the strength of our country by winning 99 medals, 29 of which are gold medals.
I should also note that it is very gratifying that our athletes won medals in a total of 19 sports. This shows that many types of sports are developing well in our country. Of course, coming first – if it is at all possible to say so – are wrestlers, who have won 23 medals, including eight gold. And this is also natural because wrestling is our national sport and we have traditionally been successful in wrestling. Coming second are representatives of gymnastics. Our athletes have won 17 medals in three types of gymnastics, including eight gold. In third place are non-Olympic sports – kickboxing athletes. The number of medals they have won is 15, and three of them are gold medals. So this is a huge achievement indeed because more than 50 countries participated in these Games and, as I said earlier, the competition was very close.
I told you in our meeting on the opening day of the Games in Konya that I was confident that you would represent our country with dignity. I am glad that this is exactly what happened. Once again, not only the entire Muslim world but also the whole world saw the power of our athletes. Every time our Flag is raised and our National Anthem is played, every citizen of Azerbaijan feels rightly proud. Every single victory enhances our glory even more. I told you during the meeting in Konya that you had additional responsibility because you would be representing a winning country in the Games. This is a factor of pride, but at the same time, it is a great responsibility. Realizing this responsibility, you represented our country with dignity even though, unfortunately, the judges were sometimes unfair and biased against you. I watched the competitions as much as I could and saw how much injustice was shown towards our athletes. Despite that, you tried to prove your strength by taking correct steps – both yourself and your coaches – and you succeeded.
The Games were held in our fraternal country and, of course, our athletes felt very comfortable there. Every athlete felt absolutely at home. At the opening ceremony, we also witnessed our Turkish brothers warmly greet our athletes when Team Azerbaijan entered the stadium. It looked as though our team was entering a stadium in Baku. This really shows again how interconnected our nations are. It shows that not only the presidents are brothers to each other – our nations and athletes are brothers too. There in the stadium, tens of thousands of viewers welcomed Team Azerbaijan as their home team.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely congratulate Turkiye and its athletes on the high-level organization of the Games and finishing first place team standings. I must also say that hosting the Games requires serious organizational efforts. I remember having to resolve many organizational matters as we were preparing to host the 2017 Games. Not every country can host the Games at this level. Although the Konya Games are officially considered the Fifth Islamic Solidarity Games, the Games have been held only four times. The first Games were held in Saudi Arabia, the second in Indonesia, the third in Azerbaijan and the fourth in Turkiye. Officially though, these have been the Fifth Solidarity Games. So I want to say that hosting the Games is not an easy task, and the Turkish side certainly deserves a lot of praise.
The Games are now in the past. I am sure that our athletes will be proud to carry these medals. But we have to look to the future now and determine what other steps should be taken for the development of sports in Azerbaijan.
You are probably aware that there have been changes in several federations recently. And this is quite natural. It was inevitable because I could see that there was stagnation in some federations, results were not achieved, some of our athletes were denied the opportunity to join international competitions. Relevant international sports bodies have punished them and the federations as a whole, sometimes in a justified and sometimes in an unjustified manner. Unfortunately, these situations were taking places and we saw that a new impetus was needed. I am sure that the recent changes in federations and, at the same time, in the Ministry of Youth and Sports are highly appreciated by both athletes and the sporting community because the results are obvious. The institutions responsible for sports should always be together with the athletes, they should know every single athlete and deal with their problems. I can already see that the changes made are producing and will continue to produce results. The key thing is that the sporting community of Azerbaijan should work towards one goal. It has always been a matter of top priority that the National Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, federations, clubs and the entire sporting community should work towards one goal, work as one team and be united. I have been President of the National Olympic Committee since 1997, and I know what processes are taking place in which countries. In many cases, there is no unity between the bodies responsible for sports. In fact, there are contradictions between them. We have this unity, and I think this is one of the main prerequisites of our success.
Of course, it is not an easy task to train professional athletes. Coaches and sports experts work hard. The process of selection must be very correct. There are great talents in our regions – children, teenagers, you just need to find them and attract them to sports. I am sure that today’s attitude towards sports in Azerbaijan, especially athletes, will bring young people and children to sports clubs. There are conditions for doing sports, there are about 50 Olympic sports centers operating in the regions alone. We have hosted the European Games and world championships in Baku. In other words, all opportunities are available and it is necessary to select the kids coming to sports clubs and train them both as strong athletes and decent citizens. This is also a very important issue. I am very happy, I am very delighted that our athletes, the athletes who represent our country in the world with dignity, are known for exemplary behavior in their day-to-day life. This is very important – humility, devotion to the Motherland, devotion to national values, physical strength, spiritual strength. Because physical strength, as they say, strengthens spiritual strength.
After the Games, of course, there should be a period of rest, but it should not be too long because the Summer Olympic Games are coming up, and there is not much time left, only two years. This is why we need to start training in the next few months. After that, qualifying tournaments will start and our team will be selected. I believe that the main goal of all sports agencies should be to prepare for the Summer Olympic Games. I am sure that all sports organizations know and understand their responsibility here because we have to represent our country at the Summer Olympic Games with dignity.
I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart again – the entire team, the athletes who won medals and those who did not. Let me also say to them that they should not feel sorry, there are still many competitions in the future. Simply put, love of the Motherland, loyalty to one’s profession, tireless work and preparation are necessary. Because without preparation there is no result – this is the case in politics, in sports, in life. You have once again raised the glory of Azerbaijan, and just as our flag is flying in Karabakh and Zangazur today, it also flies in sports arenas, and I am sure that it will fly forever. I congratulate you once again.
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The head of the sports department at the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the head of the Azerbaijani delegation at the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games, Elnur Mammadov, the head coach of the national swimming team, Rashad Abdurrahmanov, an international referee in volleyball, Eldar Zulfugarov, the winner of the gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 5th Islamic Games, Haji Aliyev, and a member of the national rhythmic gymnastics team and winner of gold and silver medals in the Islamic Games, Gullu Aghalarzade, also spoke at the meeting.