President hopes Olympic athletes will raise Azeri flag

"Day of Azerbaijan" held in London

By Arslan Abbasov, AzerNews Staff Writer

The "Day of Azerbaijan" ceremony was held on Saturday within the summer Olympics in London and attended by President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva.

The participants warmly welcomed the president and his spouse.

In a speech at the ceremony, President Aliyev said Azerbaijan as an independent country has been participating in the Summer Olympics for the fifth time and each time it "has made a step forward".

"We won the first medal in 1996 in Atlanta," Aliyev said. "Our team was able to win only one gold medal then. Then, in 2000 in Sydney, we won three medals, five in 2004 in Athens and seven in 2008 in Beijing. Of course, we all want to see this tradition continued. We all hope that our athletes will represent the country worthily in this competition and raise our flag."

The president said Azerbaijan has invested a lot in the creation of a modern sports infrastructure.

"Over the past 12 years 34 Olympic centers have been built and commissioned across the country, and this process is ongoing. This year is the Year of Sports in Azerbaijan, which is another indication of the attention we are paying to the development of sports and the Olympic movement. We are proud to take part in these Olympic Games with a team of 53 athletes - the biggest in our history so far. It also shows that the investment we have made in sports, our public policies aimed at promoting sports and the Olympic movement are yielding good results. I am confident that we will perform successfully at these Games. This competition will be another opportunity to introduce ourselves. You will see a small presentation about our achievements today - it will feature some photos, a video presentation about the development of our country. I am sure that most of the attendees have already been to Azerbaijan. And I would like to invite those of you who haven't been to Azerbaijan to visit our country."

President Aliyev also stressed that sports and the Olympic movement are part of his life.

"I am proud to say that I have been a member of the Olympic family for 15 years now," Aliyev said. "Fifteen years ago I was elected President of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan. Six years later I was elected President of Azerbaijan. So I usually say that I represent sports and the Olympic movement at the level of government. These years have been the years of progress, change, development, dedication to our cause. Being a sportsman in Azerbaijan means a lot today. We have a government policy on the development of sports and care about athletes. We have invested heavily in the modern sports infrastructure. Azerbaijan hosts various international sporting events, including European and world championships. I am sure that the number of our guests, including athletes and tourists, will further increase in the future and our friendship and cooperation will be continued."

Stressing that Olympic Games are a unique international event, the president said it is a time when people from all over the world get together, athletes compete in a spirit of fairness and partnership, and this rivalry is limited to the sports arena. This is the biggest difference between sports and politics, Aliyev said.

The hall in which the ceremony was held was decorated with photo stands describing the culture and history of sports in Azerbaijan. The big screen showed footage about the attention being paid by the government to the development of sports in Azerbaijan. Video images were also shown of the meetings of the President of Azerbaijan and of the National Olympic Committee, Ilham Aliyev, with sportsmen, opening ceremonies of various sports facilities in Azerbaijan.

The officials and representatives of the international community invited to the "Day of Azerbaijan", in conversations with President Aliyev, praised the care and attention Azerbaijan has paid to the development of sports and the Olympic movement. They approved of the development of this sphere as a major public policy priority. It was noted that the successes of the growing and economically developing Azerbaijan in this field were a great opportunity to promote Azerbaijan as a sporting nation.

During the ceremony, Aliyev met with the athletes participating in the 30th Summer Olympic Games and wished them every success on the way to victory.

Aliyev returned from London on Monday, where he attended the official opening ceremony of the summer Olympics and watched Azerbaijani athletes compete during the first days of the Games.

The London Olympics officially started on Friday. Up to 10,000 athletes from over 200 countries are contesting 302 medals during the 16-day tournament.

Olympic champion, judoka Elnur Mammadli carried the Azerbaijani flag at the opening ceremony of the Games.

Azerbaijan`s Olympic team is represented by 53 athletes in 16 sports, 41 of whom are participating in the Olympic Games for the first time. The Azerbaijani team, along with the athletes, includes six doctors and 29 coaches.

Azerbaijani athletes for the first time will take part in five new sports -- canoeing, rowing, cycling, gymnastics and fencing -- at the London Summer Olympics.

President Aliyev in early July enacted a decree allocating money awards to Azerbaijani athletes who will win medals at the London Olympics. Each gold medalist will receive 400,000 manats (around $510,000) and his coach - 200,000 manats; silver medalists will be awarded 200,000 manats and their coaches - 100,000 manats; and bronze winners - 100,000 manats and their coaches - half of the amount.

First medal

Azerbaijani team won the first medal during the second day of the Olympics. Azerbaijani weightlifter Valentin Hristov earned a bronze medal by lifting a total of 286 kg.

He was considered as one of the front-runners in his weight bracket.