Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 13th 2015 Contents A53
Saturday, June 13, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
BAKU, Azerbaijan---The first European
Games opened yesterday in Azerbaijan s
capital Baku with an extravagant opening
ceremony featuring Lady Gaga.
During a ceremony at the 68,000-seat
Olympic Stadium that celebrated the host
nation s history and the importance of sci-
ence, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev
declared the games open. Among those look-
ing on were International Olympic Committee
president Thomas Bach and many of the
games 6,000 athletes.
The multi-sport competition is an attempt
to create a European equivalent to long-run-
ning events such as the Pan-American Games
and Asian Games, but the build-up has been
overshadowed by criticism of the ex-Soviet
nation s jailing of political opponents. There
are also concerns over the competition s
sporting status, given that it will not host
top-level athletics or swimming events.
Aliyev, who has ruled Azerbaijan since
replacing his father Heydar in 2003, took a
prominent role in the ceremony, entering
the stadium bearing the European Games
torch. His wife Mehriban, who heads the
organizing committee, also gave a speech
"This spectacular celebration is the victory
of independent Azerbaijan and each Azer-
baijani citizen," she said. "Dear athletes, these
games are for you."
The games are the brainchild of the Euro-
pean Olympic Committees and the organ-
isation s president Patrick Hickey.
"We are witnessing, we are creating a
landmark moment in European sport," he
Hickey did not mention human rights,
although he said "sport has a unique power
to effect positive change" in society.
The ceremony featured an eclectic mix of
themes, with Greek myth, a giant floating
pomegranate and a video message from
physicists at the Switzerland-based CERN
research center all prominent. Russian Pres-
ident Vladimir Putin and Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan were among the world
leaders in attendance.
Lady Gaga s performance was kept a secret
until part-way through the ceremony, with
the American singer performing John
Lennon s song "Imagine" while playing a
piano covered in flowers. The singer, who
wore a simple white smock as opposed to
one of her signature eccentric outfits, was
given a rapturous reception and said she was
"extremely honored" to play at the ceremony,
in comments provided by games organisers.
Under pressure from human rights
activists, Azerbaijan s government has
demanded that politics and sport be kept
separate during the games. However, politics
intruded into the ceremony when the athletes
from Armenia, Azerbaijan s traditional rival,
were roundly booed by the crowd, who also
Azerbaijan s Nagorno-Karabakh region and
some adjacent territory have been under the
control of Armenian soldiers and local
Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire that
ended a six-year war.
Other teams were warmly welcomed, with
Azerbaijan s neighbor Turkey and fellow ex-
Soviet states Ukraine and Russia receiving
some of the loudest cheers---apart from the
roar reserved for the host nation s team.
"I know I have made everybody---all my
friends and family back home---really, really
happy and I am honored myself," Olympic
boxing champion Nicola Adams told The
Associated Press earlier Friday as she prepared
to be Britain s flagbearer at the ceremony.
"It s an amazing opportunity and it is a once
in a lifetime thing."
The ceremony saw athletes from Kosovo
parade for the first time under their own
flag at a major games, as one of the 50 nations
which have sent athletes to compete across
Protests against Azerbaijan s human rights
record took place in cities around the world
Friday, although in Baku, where demonstra-
tions are heavily restricted, opposition groups
did not announce any protests ahead of the
The day before, jailed journalist Khadija
Ismayilova criticised Azerbaijan s government,
writing that the country was in a "human
rights crisis" and beset by high-level cor-
"Things have never been worse," said
Ismayilova s letter, released by the PEN organ-
isation, which said it had been smuggled out
of prison in pieces. (AP)
TOKYO---Baseball and softball could be
included in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But
how about korfball, billiards or even
Tokyo organisers yesterday a list of 26
sports that that have applied for inclusion
in the games. Some were familiar while
others like surfing, wushu or sumo could
give the Olympics a unique look.
The combined bid of men s baseball and
women s softball is considered a favorite
because of the popularity of those sports
in Japan. Other federations that hope to
have their sports added to the programme
include karate, squash and roller sports.
"We have three criteria in deciding which
sports will be chosen," said Toshiro Muto,
chief executive officer of the Tokyo organ-
izing committee. "They must be popular
with young people, give momentum to
Tokyo 2020 and meet IOC standards."
Tokyo will announce a shortlist of can-
didates on June 22. Finalists will make a
presentation in Tokyo in August, and organ-
isers will make recommendations to the
International Olympic Committee by Sep-
tember 30.The IOC will make a final deci-
sion in August 2016, when it meets ahead
of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Under the IOC s "Olympic Agenda 2020"
reforms approved in December, host cities
can propose the addition of one or more
sports for their games.
IOC President Thomas Bach said earlier
this week that he wants sports with youth
"We would like to see in the proposals
also an event or events which are attractive
to youth in particular," he said in Lausanne,
Switzerland. "We think that this would be
a win-win situation. It would give Japan
the great opportunity to present itself to
the world as a youthful nation looking to
the future embracing youth and other cul-
"I am confident that this call for youth
in the Olympic Agenda 2020 will be reflect-
ed in the proposal we are going to receive
in September," Bach said.
Muto also said sports which would not
require new venues to be built are preferred.
Tokyo Olympic organisers have been looking
for ways to reduce costs.
Baseball and softball were dropped after
the 2008 Beijing Games and have failed in
several bids for reinstatement. They would
be a huge draw in Japan.
"Baseball and softball at the Tokyo 2020
Games can help spread Olympic values
with the entire nation of Japan and those
around the world," said Riccardo Fraccari,
president of the World Baseball Softball
Many of the sports up for consideration
have been applied for Olympic inclusion
in the past, some multiple times. (AP)
Air sports, American football, baseball-
softball, bowls, bowling, bridge, chess,
dance sport, floorball, flying disc,
karate, korfball, netball, orienteering,
polo, racquetball, roller sports, sport
climbing, squash, sumo, surfing, tug of
war, underwater, waterski and
wakeboard, and wushu.
26 sports apply
for inclusion in
First European Games
open in Azerbaijan
Fireworks explode over the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, yesterday. AP PHOTO
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