Baku 2015 European Games Sports
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Described as the “future of the sport” by International Basketball Federation secretary general Patrick Baumann last year, 3x3 basketball could be added to the Olympic programme as soon as at Tokyo 2020.
The European Games, the latest in a series of multi-sport events at which the innovative new discipline has featured, is thus a major opportunity to gain more exposure and experience for one of the four non-Olympic sports in Baku.
It is hard to believe that the sport’s international debut came just less than five years ago, when it was labelled the “hottest ticket in town” at the inaugural Summer Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, and has since gone from strength to strength in senior as well as junior ranks, with European nations among the strongest in the world.
Aside from the lesser number of players on each team, the principal difference between 3x3 basketball and its five-a-side cousin is that only one hoop and a half court is used, with teams having to move out of the arc when reclaiming possession.
A successful shot from inside the arc scores one point, while one from outside gains two points, with a match consisting of a single period of 10 minutes.
Any team accruing 21 points wins automatically, except if an overtime period is taking place, in which case the first team to score two overtime points takes victory.
The composition in Baku was decided last year following the conclusion of the sport’s first-ever European Tour in September.
A total of 15 teams were duly selected to join the host nation, with reigning men’s and women’s European champions Romania and Russia leading the way.
On the men’s side, Romania will be joined by
beaten European Tour finalists Slovenia, as well as bronze medal winners Lithuania and fourth-placed Greece.
Serbia, the 2012 world champions, who lost last year’s final to Qatar, will also participate along with Belgium, Spain, Estonia, Israel, Russia, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy and Andorra.
Meanwhile on the women’s side, Slovenia and Belgium, silver and bronze medal winners on the European Tour, will hope to provide the toughest competition for Russia.
Other teams in the competition include The Netherlands, Lithuania, Romania, Turkey, Switzerland, Ukraine, Spain, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Israel, Greece and Slovakia.
This marks the first occasion in which Ireland’s women have qualified for a major multi-sport event in basketball, something likely to please European Olympic Committees President, Patrick Hickey.
The 3x3 tournament will take place over four days of competition from June 23 to 26 at the temporary Basketball Arena, with a spectator seating capacity of 2,000.
The game is estimated to be enjoyed by more than 250 million players worldwide, with a study having ranked it the largest urban team sport in the world.
Fast-paced and with a format almost guaranteeing close and topsy-turvy matches, it should provide plenty of excitement for the fans in the Azerbaijani capital.
Aquatic sports are often the highlight for many spectators at multi-sport events and that is set to be no different at Baku 2015.
The four-pronged programme at the inaugural European Games includes swimming, synchronised swimming and diving, which will all take place in the stunning brand-new Baku Aquatics Centre, and water polo, which will be held in a tailored temporary venue in the Flag Square Cluster.
Swimming is one of the bumper disciplines at the eagerly-anticipated Games, with 526 athletes expected to descend on the Azerbaijani capital, all hopeful of claiming one of the 42 gold medals which are on offer.
The men’s competition will feature under-18 swimmers, while the women’s will be under-16.
The competitors will take part across four strokes - freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly - in an Olympic-sized 50 metre pool.
A number of non-Olympic distances will be raced, in addition to a full Olympic programme. The 50m sprint in backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly will be held for both genders, the 800m freestyle for men, the 1500m freestyle for women and mixed gender 4 x 100m relays, both freestyle and medley.
The sport will be staged in front of what is sure to be a raucous crowd providing an electric atmosphere, and it will leave spectators with something to look forward to during the Games, as it takes place during five intense days of action from June 23 to 27.
While swimming events will provide dramatic action, the athletes competing in the synchronised swimming discipline are likely to add a touch of beauty to the Games, by displaying grace and poise.
The competition, for women competitors only, begins on the same day as the Opening Ceremony, June 12, and runs for five days up until June 16, where 150 athletes will be eager to top the podium in four medal events.
Competitors will be involved in four disciplines - solo, duet, team and free combination - and the sport is set to provide a classy prelude to the diving and swimming events which follow.
Following the completion of the synchronised swimming, the sport of diving comes to the fore from June 18 to 21.
Diving has continually grown in popularity since it made its debut on the Olympic programme over 100 years ago, and fans in Baku will be treated to a packed schedule of action, with athletes vying for glory in eight medal disciplines.
A total of 160 divers will feature in 1m and 3m springboard, 3m synchronised, as well as the 5m, 7.5m and 10m platform competitions.
Held outside of the main Aquatics Centre, water polo is set to be one of the most attention-grabbing sports at the Games, with the fast-paced competition taking place over 10 vigorous days starting on June 12.
The men’s competition features 16 sides and the women’s is comprised of 12, both of which will utilise a round robin stage followed by knockout contests.
France, Italy, Russia and Ukraine make up Group A of the men’s tournament, while hosts Azerbaijan have been drawn alongside Germany, Hungary and Romania in Group B.
Croatia, Greece, Montenegro and Turkey feature in Group C and the last four teams in the tournament are Malta, Serbia, Slovakia and Spain.
The women’s competition incorporates a slightly different format, with 12 teams split into two groups. Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Israel and The Netherlands will contest Group A, while France, Italy, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and Spain make up Group B.
Archery, one of the oldest sports, requiring high levels of skills, concentration and consistency, will be taking place at the iconic Tofiq Bahramov Stadium and is set to be a surprise package of Baku 2015.
With the history of the Caucuses, as with the rest of Europe, steeped in the art of shooting using bow and arrows - for survival as much as anything else - it is certainly not a sport requiring too much understanding, with the aim being to shoot as close to the centre of the target as possible, over and over again.
But with the target in the Olympic recurve competitions taking place in Baku 70 metres away and only 122 centimetres in diameter - with the gold “10” ring at the centre a measly 12.2cm - this is easier said than done.
A total of 64 men and 64 women will compete across five events spanning individual, team and mixed team disciplines.
Of these, 58 positions will be allocated through qualifying, with three awarded to the host nation and a further three Universality Places.
As for Azerbaijian, with their highest ranked male archer, Taras Senyuk, positioned 117th in the world, and wife Olga the best placed female in 198th, their chances do not appear too strong. But with the unpredictable best-of-five-set scoring system you cannot write them off completely.
This unpredictability has already been shown at the first, and foremost, qualification event last July: the European Outdoor Championships in Echmiadzin, Armenia.
The top eight teams in the male and female competitions qualified for Baku automatically, with each also receiving three quota places for the individual events. After claiming both men and women’s titles, France led the way.
Yet on the men’s side, both number one seeds Italy, and defending champions The Netherlands, missed out. They were beaten by Norway and Germany respectively, with Great Britain and Poland also losing their opening matches as Belarus, Slovenia, Russia, Spain and Ukraine took the remaining places. On the women’s side, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Russia, Belarus, Denmark and Poland were the other qualifiers.
A further 16 quota places have been allocated to the National Olympic Committees of the highest ranked archers from nations which did not qualify through the team competition, with Denmark, Cyprus, Greece, Estonia, Moldova, Great Britain and Switzerland among others to have secured at least one place.
For everyone else, a final qualifying competition, which took place alongside a Grand Prix Event in Marathon, Greece, in March, offered slots for the best ranked teams and for further individual spots.
No specific qualification will take place for the mixed team event.
Any country with both qualifying male and female athletes will be eligible to compete. However, only the top 15 teams from the ranking round, which will begin proceedings in Baku, will participate, as well as Azerbaijan.
Although only events using the Olympic recurve bow will feature next month, it is also hoped that the more accurate compound bow, showcased at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon for the first time, will be added to a future European Games programme.
Speaking of the Olympics, there will be no specific qualification places available for Rio 2016, but world rankings points will be won, which will help with securing Olympic places.
But with the competition, taking place over seven days from June 16 to 22, nicely positioned in a month with no World Cup or World Championship events, all of the best archers from the continent can be expected.
Athletics will play a key part in the inaugural European Games in Baku, although it has not been an easy ride to make the start-line.
With the athletics programme already packed, and a large amount of European and global events building up to August’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, it has taken delicate negotiations to reach a deal.
Baku 2015 will host European Athletics Team Championships Third League during the Games, in the Olympic Stadium on June 21 and 22.
There will also be a series of exhibition street athletics which will be a combination of men’s and women’s pole vault and men’s high jump.
In the Team Championships, a total of 17 nations are scheduled to participate, meaning around 500 athletes will take part.
These countries include hosts Azerbaijan, as well as Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Israel, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Slovakia.
Azerbaijan is improving strongly in the sport and will try to utilise the opportunity of securing a podium placing. They boast a well-balanced squad, including Hayle Ibrahimov, the 2013 European Indoor and Summer Universiade champion and Europe’s fastest 5,000 metres runner last year with a best time of 13min 09.17sec, which put him ahead of Britain’s Olympic and world champion Mo Farah.
Among other top athletes hoping to compete will be Slovakian hammer pairing Marcel Lomnický and Martina Hrašnová, as well as Albanian 1500m national record holder Luiza Gega.
The Azerbaijan Athletics Federation has high hopes that the athletics programme in the European Games will leave a lasting legacy for the young country. “We hope that the development of athletics in Azerbaijan will go to a new level with our plan with European Athletics,” said Azerbaijan Athletics Federation President Chingiz Husseinzade.
“It is highly important for us to develop athletics in our country considering that it’s one of the core sports disciplines.”
As is customary at the European Team Championships, the programme will consist of 40 events blending sprints, distance and relay races as well as all the jumps and throws. All of these are on the Olympic programme, except for the men and women’s 3,000m. There will be no competition over 10,000m on the track, nor in race-walking, marathon, decathlon and heptathlon events.
The exhibition street athletics event should prove to be spectacular.
The intention is to bring the top eight athletes from each discipline to a striking downtown venue on the shores of the Caspian Sea during the Games. The final line-up is still being finalised.
Europe has featured in international badminton tournaments with considerable success, so the inaugural European Games is sure to feature some of the best athletes on the continent, and also in the world.
Indeed, 160 of Europe’s most talented athletes in the sport will compete at Baku 2015 across the five medal events of men’s and women’s singles and doubles and a mixed doubles contest.
The competition will take place at the 1,700-seater Baku Sports Hall, in the City Cluster, which will be the home of racquet sports during the Games. The competition gets underway on June 22 and continues until June 28, the same day as the Closing Ceremony.
Expect fast-paced and energetic action - the shuttlecock can travel at speeds of more than 300 kilometres per hour - with skilful technical shots at the matches of this popular spectator sport, which takes place on a rectangular court divided into two equal halves by a net.
The athletes must hit the shuttlecock only once before it passes over the net and they score points when it lands in the opponents half of the court, with a rally ending when the shuttlecock hits the floor or if a judge announces a fault.
Both singles and doubles matches are played over the best of three games, and each game is won by the first player or doubles pair to reach 21 points by a margin of two clear points.
Badminton dates back more than 200 years, when British military officers stationed in British India created the game.
It has its origins in the ancient game of battledore and shuttlecock, with photographs from the mid-1800s showing players adding a net to the traditional English game.
The sport has since enjoyed considerable growth on a global scale and the International Badminton Federation, now known as Badminton World Federation, was founded in 1934, with Canada, Denmark, England, France, The Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales as its founding members, while India joined as an affiliate two years later.
Its international appeal saw it first appearing at the Olympic Games as a demonstration sport at Munich 1972, before it became a full Summer Olympic sport at Barcelona 1992, with singles and doubles events for both men and women.
The mixed doubles event was added to the Games programme four years later in Atlanta and the five medal events have been contested at every edition since, attracting competitors from 63 different nations, of which 19 have appeared all six times.
In terms of European nations, Denmark has been a major player in badminton for a number of years, with its athletes securing World Championship and Olympic medals, including the men’s doubles silver medal and mixed doubles bronze at London 2012.
The silver medal winners Mathias Boe and Carsten Mogensen, who most recently claimed bronze at last year’s World Championship, will be aiming for podium finishes at these Games as they lead the Danish team, having qualified thanks to their world number two ranking position.
With innovation, youth and excitement three of the key concepts of Baku 2015, nowhere will these components be better displayed than by a beach soccer showdown bringing a novel version of the world’s most popular sport.
Taking place in the Beach Arena at the Flag Square Cluster, the competition is set to form a grand finale of the European Games, taking place the same day as the Closing Ceremony.
The game, in a competitive sense, has grown hugely since its inauguration in 1992 when the first beach soccer rules were drawn-up and a pilot event held in Los Angeles.
Just two years later, the first Beach Soccer World Championships were held on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro and won by a Brazilian squad featuring Júnior and Zico, two of the greatest players to ever play the grass version of the game.
The game is now played in 170 countries worldwide, making beach soccer one of the fastest growing professional sports. This has been boosted by widespread television coverage and much commercial attention.
Each team consists of five players, including a goalkeeper and a rolling pool of substitutions. Goal kicks are taken by the goalkeeper using his hands to throw the ball, and while shoes are banned, ankle guards are allowed. Throw-ins and kick-ins mean the pace and flow is much faster than regular football, while the smaller pitch also creates a higher scoring game, with a 36-minute match featuring an average of 11 goals.
A game is split into three 12-minute “periods”, while extra-time followed by a sudden death penalty shoot-out means there is no possibility of a draw. Rather than the timing being at the discretion of the referee, an “official game clock” also counts down to zero.
Brazil has gone on to win 13 of the 17 editions of the World Championships, which became known as the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2005. But the other four have all been won by countries from Europe: namely Portugal in 2001, France in 2005, and Russia in the two most recent editions in 2011 and 2013.
The highlight of the early stages in Baku will be a rematch of the World Cup final between Russia and Spain in Tahiti two years ago after both were drawn in Group B.
Christian Karembeu, a FIFA World Cup winner with France in 1998, conducted the draw alongside Robert Prosinečki, the former Croatia and Barcelona midfielder, who now coaches the Azerbaijani national team.
Russia and Spain will feature in a tough group which also includes Italy and Hungary, while Group A is made up of Azerbaijan, as well as Portugal, Switzerland and Ukraine, and with the top two from each group progressing to the semi-finals.
“Beach soccer has all the ingredients to be one of the most entertaining competitions on show in Baku this summer,” Karembeu, a FIFA Beach Soccer ambassador, said. “Baku 2015 will be a wonderful showcase for the sport, and being featured in the first edition of the European Games gives us a high-profile platform to increase interest and participation in Europe and beyond.”
Boxing is one of the most popular sports in Azerbaijan and, if the European Games test event is anything to go by, it will be a strong source of medals for the hosts.
The sport will play a major part in the inaugural Games and will see some 300 athletes competing across 15 medal events.
It will be contested over a 12-day period from June 16 to 27 in Baku’s iconic Crystal Hall, which seats 25,000 and is located in the centre of the Flag Square Cluster on a peninsula jutting out into the Bay of Baku.
Europe’s best boxers will fight across 10 weight categories for men and five for women, marking the first time a multi-sport event features an increase from the usual three weight categories for women.
Qualification for the Games was determined by qualification event rankings and National Olympic Committee allocation.
The field is set to include a number of international stars, including Olympic gold medallists.
Among them will be Great Britain’s Nicola Adams, the first-ever woman to claim an Olympic boxing title when she secured flyweight gold at her home Games of London 2012.
She is also the reigning Commonwealth Games champion in the weight class. She will be joined by compatriots and fellow Glasgow 2014 gold medallists, super heavyweight star Joe Joyce and middleweight fighter Antony Fowler.
London 2012 men’s lightweight bronze medallist Lithuanian Evaldas Petrauskas, and Irish Olympic champion and Baku 2015 International Athlete Ambassador Katie Taylor will also be among the athletes vying for medals at the European Games.
“Baku 2015 will be great for European sport, and I am delighted to be involved both as an Athlete Ambassador and as a competitor,” Taylor, the Olympic 60 kilogram gold medallist, said earlier this year.
Azerbaijan is also no stranger to hosting major events in the sport. Baku successfully staged the 2011 World Boxing Championships and is also set to host the final World Olympic Qualifying Event for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
The sport itself, which dates back to 688 BC, requires dedication and self-discipline of both mind and body.
Boxing fights are supervised by a referee over a series of two-or-three-minute rounds, with scores awarded by judges using the 10-point must system.
It is regarded as one of the oldest and most traditional sports and made its debut at the modern Olympic Games in 1904 in St Louis.
Since then it has been contested at every Games, with the exception of Stockholm 1912, as Sweden had banned the sport at the time.
Women’s boxing was first included on the Olympic programme at the last Summer Games, London 2012, after being sanctioned by the International Boxing Association in 1994.
Europe’s domination of canoe sprint in both Olympic Games and World Championships, points to an extremely high-level of competition at Baku 2015.
Famous for its reservoirs, Mingachevir, the fourth biggest city in Azerbaijan, will play host to the sport’s three days of competition during the inaugural European Games.
From June 14 to 16, a total of 350 athletes - 205 men and 145 women - will take to the water in the City of Lights.
The field of play is a regatta course measuring 1,000 metres in length, with a race lane depth greater than 10m.
For the canoe sprint competition, it will be presented with nine lanes and start lines at 200m, 500m, 1,000m and 5,000m, meeting International Canoe Federation rules.
In all, there will be 12 kayak events, six for each gender, and three canoe events for men only.
Germany topped the medal table at the recent European Championships in Račice with seven golds, followed by Russia and Belarus with four each, and hosts, the Czech Republic, who were one of three nations to claim two titles with Poland and Denmark.
Max Rendschmidt and Marcus Gross teamed up to win the K2 500m and 1,000m golds for Germany, while compatriot Sebastian Brendel triumphed in both the C1 1,000m and 5,000m races.
Ronald Rauhe and Tom Liebscher repeated their K2 200m success, and there were also wins for Max Hoff and Franziska Weber in the men’s and women’s K1 1,000m events respectively.
All of the podium-topping German paddlers have been nominated for the Baku 2015 European Games, along with C2 1,000m bronze medallists Yul Oeltze and Ronald Verch.
Although Hungary only managed to win two silvers in Račice, the nation which has collected the most canoeing and kayaking medals in Olympic history with 77 in total, and ranks third in the gold medal stakes behind the Soviet Union and Germany, will expect to thrive in Baku.
Zsolt Borkai, President of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, stated as much in a recent interview.
“We never apply tactics,” he said. “We compete to be the best. We are preparing for Baku in this spirit.”
Lithuania will be pinning its hopes on Russian-born Jevgenijus Šuklinas, who won a silver medal in the C1 200m event in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
He is one of eight Lithuanian paddlers who competed in Račice along with Ignas Navakauskas, Henrikas Žustautas, Edvinas Ramanauskas, Aurimas Lankas, Mindaugas Maldonis, Ričardas Nekriošius and Andrejus Olijnikas.
Navakauskas took bronze in the K1 200m event, while Lankas and Ramanauskas achieved the same position in the K2 200m.
Azerbaijan, meanwhile, will take encouragement from an impressive performance at the Presidential Cup, the Baku 2015 test event, held in April.
Hosted by the Kur Sport and Rowing Centre in Mingachevir, athletes representing the city collected 11 gold medals, 14 silver and 17 bronze, while their Baku counterparts picked up four golds, three silver and three bronze.
Medals will certainly be harder to come by for the host nation at the European Games, however, in what promises to be an extremely competitive discipline.
Cycling at the European Games will consist of road races, mountain biking and BMX.
There will be an individual time trial and a road race, providing an opportunity to feature some of the top landmarks in Baku. Many of these landmarks were seen during the Tour of Azerbaijan cycling stage-race held annually, in which 150 riders from 23 different nations pedalled their way through seven regions of the country before finishing in Baku with a tour through the fortified city and the Shirvanshah Palace.
The road cycling competition for the European Games begins on June 18 and finishes on June 21 and will feature 146 men and 75 women. The road race for both men and women will be held around the city centre circuit of Baku, with Freedom Square featuring as the start and finish. The venue for the time trial event will be Bilgah Beach, which will also host the triathlon.
Mountain biking is set to take place on the first day after the Opening Ceremony, on June 13 at the Mountain Bike Velopark, with BMX events held on the final weekend at the BMX Velopark. Cycling events will straddle all three weekends of the Games.
Progress has already been made in road events, and at London 2012 Elena Tchalykh became the first Azerbaijani to compete in an Olympic cycling competition with a creditable 20th place finish in the time trial.
But in mountain biking Azerbaijan are less developed and in BMX events, first seen on the Olympic stage at Beijing 2008, they have virtually no competitors at all.
“We are using the Games to help with development in Azerbaijan,” European Cycling Union general secretary Enrico Della Casa said. “We will provide bikes to local children and work with the Solidarity Commission to increase opportunities for youngsters to take up BMX.”
As host nation, Azerbaijan is entitled to places in all eight of the cycling events, but because they do not have the athletes to participate in BMX, they will be permitted an extra athlete in the mountain bike races.
Azerbaijan will not be the only country hoping to use the Games to develop in cycling. Qualification will be decided by the International Cycling Union Nations ranking, from a cut-off date of December 31, with each nation allocated a certain number of riders depending on their position in the rankings.
But with Universality Places also available, there will be opportunities for all 50 Federations to compete, and smaller nations including Andorra, Montenegro and Macedonia have been among those to express their enthusiasm.
One extra incentive is provided by the fact that the Games will offer ranking points towards Olympic qualification for Rio 2016.
Following strong performances from European nations at the 2014 World Fencing Championships, competition looks set to be of an extremely high standard at Baku 2015.
Italy and hosts Russia shared first place in Kazan last July, winning three gold, one silver and four bronze medals each, while France finished third with one less bronze than the leading duo.
Germany, Ukraine, Estonia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland also featured in the top 10, all of which makes for a tantalising five days of action from June 23 to 27.
As many as 216 fencers - 108 men and 108 women - will take part in the individual and team bouts in epée, foil and sabre events, with a total of 12 medals up for grabs, two more than at the Olympic Games.
All individual events at Baku 2015 will comprise 36 fencers per weapon and begin with an initial pool round, which will see athletes divided into six groups of six based on their International Fencing Federation rankings.
Competing athletes will go up against each other to determine the pool standings, after which the top 28 athletes will progress to the direct elimination stage.
Teams will also be seeded according to their International Fencing Federation ranking for each weapon, and will be placed in an incomplete direct elimination table.
Six-time Olympic gold medallist Valentina Vezzali headlines a formidable Italian outfit, while Olga Kharlan is among the stand-out names for Ukraine having helped her country to success in the women’s sabre team event at Beijing 2008 and claimed a bronze medal in the individual equivalent at London 2012.
The reigning world and European champion visited Baku in April, when she met Yashar Mammadov, the vice-president of the Azerbaijan Fencing Federation, and said the European Games would be great preparation for this year’s World Championships in Moscow from July 13 to 19.
“The Baku Games are one of our major upcoming events and are a chance to prepare for the World Championships,” she said.
“Just before the European Games, we are going to compete in the European Championships in Montreux, Switzerland. And Baku 2015 is a dress rehearsal for the World Championships, so I want to perform well.”
Azerbaijan, which is guaranteed four competitors in each individual event, and will compete only in sabre and epee, has never won an Olympic medal in the sport, but has sent athletes to three Games.
The Baku Crystal Hall will play host to fencing which is the only combat sport to feature at Baku 2015 without weight classes.
As one of few sports to have featured at every modern Olympic Games, fencing is rich in tradition and is sure to be a real crowd pleaser in Baku.
Strongly linked to sword fighting, the sport was initially practiced as part of military training before it appeared as an independent sport in the 1800s.
Having made its Olympic debut at the first-ever modern edition in 1896, fencing can add another notable milestone to its illustrious history when it features as part of the inaugural European Games.
Taking place over seven days, from June 14 to 21, the gymnastics competition at Baku 2015 is set to be a major spectacle, bringing wide-ranging ramifications for one of the most popular Olympic sports.
This is because, for the first time ever, all five gymnastics disciplines will be showcased simultaneously in the same hall at the same Games in the brand-new National Gymnastics Arena close to the Athletes’ Village.
As well as the established trio of artistic, rhythmic and trampoline events, the non-Olympic disciplines of aerobics and acrobatics will also feature.
In acrobatics, gymnasts work together and perform routines consisting of acrobatic moves, dance and tumbling, while in aerobics they perform continuously complex and high-intensity movement patterns to music.
The European Union of Gymnastics claimed that Baku 2015 will be a “true festival” that will show how the sport can be “innovating, dynamic and in phase with its time”.
The artistic finals will take place on June 20, and will be followed by rhythmic, trampoline, aerobic and acrobatic finals the next day.
“We are rewriting the history of gymnastics,” claimed UEG President Georges Guelzec. “We will present our disciplines in a dynamic, modern and spectacular way which will correspond to the expectations of the 6,000 spectators which will be expected each day in the new hall in Baku which was specially built for this event.”
It is hoped that, if this pioneering event proves successful, it will boost the chances of acrobatics and aerobics being added to a larger Olympic gymnastics programme at some point in the future.
Gymnastics has already played a pioneering role in preparations for the Games. In May of last year, aerobics and trampolining provided the very first quota places across any sport for Baku 2015.
In total, 120 places were distributed to 22 different National Olympic Committees across the continent, with Georgia the first to confirm their acceptance.
With European nations having always figured prominently in gymnastics at Olympic Games, the standard is set to be particularly high in Baku.
The likes of Russia, Romania, Belarus and Ukraine will be hoping to lead the way, although a strong Western European challenge will also come from the likes of Germany, France and Great Britain.
As for the host nation, although gymnastics is not one of Azerbaijan’s strongest sports, they are certainly a rising power.
This is particularly so in rhythmic events, where the nation won a European silver medal in the balls and ribbons group event held last June in the very same National Gymnastics Arena where Baku 2015 events will take place.
It will be hoped that another chance to compete on home turf will galvanise the team in pursuit of more long-term success on the road to Rio 2016.
One final attraction of the gymnastics competition is provided by the fact the head of the Organising Committee for Baku 2015, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, has also served as President of the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation since 2002 and has played a key role in bringing various international events in the sport to the city.
So with an innovative programme and an iconic new venue, the gymnastics competition should be a sporting highlight as a top-class field bounce, vault and swing themselves to pioneering success.
One of the key mantras of the Baku 2015 European Games is the fact that the event is creating history by being the inaugural Games on the continent, and no sport portrays that better than judo.
The competitions will take place in the impressive Heydar Aliyev Arena across four intense days of action, from June 25 to June 28, the same day as the Closing Ceremony, ensuring the Games will be rounded off in style.
Some 416 judokas are due to compete in seven individual weight categories, ranging from under 60 kilograms to over 100kg for men and under 48kg to over 78kg for women, as well as one men’s and one women’s team competition.
While the number of participants who will be competing is particularly encouraging, the main stand-out selling point of the sport at Baku 2015 is that it will be the first time both able-bodied and blind judo will be staged together.
This represents a major boost for the event as a whole, ensuring both Olympic and Paralympic disciplines are displayed side by side.
The visually impaired event will consist of two competitions - the men’s over 90kg and women’s under 57kg - and adds another element of history to the momentous European Games.
In total, 18 gold medals will be available, ensuring the level of competition will be enthralling and hotly-contested.
As well as being the first major Continental Games to incorporate both able-bodied and visually impaired judo disciplines, Europe’s best judokas are set to descend on the Azerbaijani capital as the event will also double as the European Judo Championships.
Being given the right to host the event ensures a top field of judokas will battle it out for gold as well as vital Olympic qualification points in Baku ahead of Rio 2016.
“The EOC has always intended for European Championships to become part of the European Games and this agreement indicates that our aim is coming true, even earlier than we had anticipated,” European Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey said.
“I am sure other sports will follow suit at future editions of the European Games and that the event will become one of the main qualification routes for the Olympic Games.
“For now, I am very much looking forward to welcoming the best judoka in Europe to Baku in June, as well as judo fans from around the world.
“A great sports event starts and ends with great sport, and integrating the European Championships here means there will be even more top-class quality on show.”
The National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan have allocated the entered Azeri judoka into the respective weight categories and the rest of the field will be decided by the athletes’ position on the International Judo Federation world rankings.
Judo is expected to attract large audiences at the recently-renovated venue throughout the four days of competition as the Azerbaijani public take a particular shining to full contact combat sports.
Do not bet against Azeri success come Games time!
Karate will be hoping to use its appearance at the European Games to push its campaign for a place on the Olympic programme.
The sport has failed with three consecutive attempts to be added to the Olympics, but the sport is growing and has launched another attempt to be accepted for Tokyo 2020.
Appearing at the European Games is considered a major way to raise its profile.
“Baku 2015 will be very, very important for us,” admitted World and European Karate Federation President, Antonio Espinós. “There will be opportunities for greater visibility and prestige, and we will have a unique opportunity to showcase the sport.”
Karate’s popularity is rooted in having a simple-to-understand scoring system, few pads and an aggressive style, making it entertaining for spectators.
Karate is also surging in popularity among youngsters, something deemed very much in the spirit of the times in the Olympic Movement.
“I would say karate is a universal sport,” added Espinós, head of the WKF since 1998. “It is very popular and is now a very strong sport in many European countries, and Patrick Hickey and the European Olympic Committees know karate very well. I feel we can make a very good go of the opportunity provided by participating at Baku 2015, and we will certainly have added value for the EOC.”
The sport at Baku 2015 will feature 10 individual kumite events and two individual kata events, which will be contested by a field of 48 men and 48 women at the Crystal Hall.
Among those set to compete at the Games is World Championships bronze medallist Alisa Buchinger, who is eyeing more success after becoming the first Austrian woman to win a European gold medal in the sport as she leads the under 68 kilograms class.
Azerbaijan will be represented in this category by Irina Zaretka – current world bronze medallist
World champion Serap Özçelik of Turkey features in the under 50kg event, alongside 2013 European Championships gold medallist and last year’s world bronze medal winner Alexandra Recchia, while the women’s under 55kg field includes French European champion and world silver medallist Emilie Thouy.
The men’s field features Serbian European and 2010 world champion Slobodan Bitevic in the over 84kg weight class, alongside the current world champion, Turkey’s Enes Erkan, plus 2012 world silver medallist Shahin Atamov of home nation Azerbaijan.
Italy’s Luigi Busà will be one to look out for in the under 75kg after he claimed the silver medal at last year’s World Championships, as will Azerbaijan’s multiple world and European gold medallist Rafael Aghayev and world bronze medallist Noah Bitsch of Germany.
European and world bronze medallist Evgeny Plakhutin of Russia will also be looking for a podium finish in the under 60kg competition, but will have to fend off the likes of Firdovsi Farzaliyev, who will be aiming for success on home turf.
Other athletes with a home advantage will be European champion Niyazi Aliyev, who will compete in the under 67kg event, and European silver medallist Aykhan Mamayev in the under 84kg contest.
As sambo continues to strive for recognition from the International Olympic Committee, the inaugural European Games will provide a great platform to showcase the modern combat sport.
More than 70 athletes will compete across eight categories at the Heydar Aliyev Arena on June 22 as the men contest the 57 kilogram, 74kg, 90kg and over 100kg classes, and the women battle for medals in the 52kg, 60kg, 64kg and 68kg categories.
Sambo, an explosive mix of judo, jujitsu and wrestling, draws on a number of different fighting styles and techniques from Europe and Asia.
The word “sambo” is an acronym derived from the Russian phrase Samozashchita Bez Oruzhiya - which literally translates as “self-defence without weapons”.
It was developed originally by the Soviet Army in the 1920s to train soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, and has been influenced by a variety of holds from several combat styles.
Today, it continues to develop and grow in popularity throughout the world with Federations on all five continents.
Although the annual European Sambo Championships took place from May 14 to 18 in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, many fighters consider the single day of competition in Baku to hold more significance.
“My preparation is dedicated only to the Games - all the training, the World Cups and even the European Championships are preparation competitions,” said Belarus’ Stsipan Papou.
Romania’s Natalia Budeanu added: “It’s the biggest competition of the season. I will try to do my best to win the gold medal. We are trying our best to get to the tournament in our best condition.”
The men’s 74kg category will be the most competitive at Baku 2015 with 14 countries represented, five more than any other class.
France’s Jordan Amoros and Spain’s Luis Menéndez are the sole male representatives for their respective countries in the category, with Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Slovenia and Turkey also entering one athlete in the 74kg category.
Amoros, who competed for his country in judo at the 2007 Universiade in Bangkok, is eyeing a gold medal despite having to overcome a recent lateral knee ligament problem which has disrupted his preparations, while Menéndez, the reigning Spanish champion, is also on the hunt for a podium finish.
In addition to Belarus and the host nation Azerbaijan, Russia is the only other country that will be represented in all eight weight classes in Baku.
The Russian team is headed by Alsim Chernoskulov and Artem Osipenko, who will compete in the men’s 90kg and over 100kg categories respectively.
Three-time world champion Chernoskulov booked his place at Baku 2015 by beating Arsen Handyazhyan in the Russian Championships final, while Osipenko secured his passage after overcoming the massive 160kg Rustem Arslanov.
Following Azerbaijan’s strong performance at March’s FIAS Sambo World Cup in Moscow, where the country’s fighters collected one gold, two silver and three bronze medals, Sambo International Federation President Vasily Shestakov believes home advantage could help them even further.
“The upcoming European Games in Baku, that includes sambo, undoubtedly will motivate and give additional strength to Azerbaijani sambo athletes,” he said.
Having produced the country’s first-ever Olympic gold medal at Sydney 2000, shooting is a sport which Azerbaijan will forever hold close to its heart.
Zemfira Meftahatdinova’s memorable win in the women’s skeet competition was followed by her bronze medal in Athens four years later, when compatriot Irada Ashumova also finished third, in the women’s 25 metres pistol event.
Although no medals were won at either Beijing 2008 or London 2012, Azerbaijan will be confident of returning to the podium at Baku 2015.
A total of 330 medal hopefuls will battle it out at the new Baku Shooting Centre from June 16 to 22, with competition including nine men’s, six women’s and four mixed team events.
These are divided into three categories, depending on the type of firearm used, with competitors aiming at a stationary target from a range of set distances in the rifle and pistol events.
In the trap, double trap and skeet shotgun events, competitors shoot at moving clay targets launched above and in front of them, while adopting different positions - standing, kneeling or prone.
The quartet of mixed team events - the 50m pistol, 50m rifle, trap and skeet categories - are very much in keeping with the spirit of the times in the Olympic Movement following the adoption of Agenda 2020.
Baku 2015 is therefore an ideal opportunity to showcase a discipline which could one day feature on the Olympic programme.
Despite the rise of China and South Korea in recent years, nine different European nations managed to win at least one gold medal at last year’s ISSF World Championships in Granada, Spain, suggesting competition will be strong in the Azerbaijani capital.
A total of 305 quota places had already been awarded for Baku 2015 based on European rankings as of December 31.
These went to the top 30 athletes in the men’s trap and skeet, the top 28 in all individual pistol and rifle events, and the top 18 in double trap, as well as the women’s trap and skeet.
A maximum of two from each nation are permitted, with the European Olympic Committees having provided notification of the places in January, and officially confirmed them in February.
Great Britain lead the way with 13 quota places, followed by Italy with 12, Russia, Germany and hosts Azerbaijan with nine, and Slovakia with eight.
Slovakia’s Erik Varga, Italy’s Petra Zublasing and Russia’s Alexander Zemlin are among the individual world champions expected to compete in Baku along with Germany’s Beate Gauß, who won four golds, including individual 50m rifle prone and 50m three positions titles in Granada.
An extra incentive will see the winner in each of the 15 individual events automatically receive an Olympic quota place for their country at Rio 2016.
The event will form the second leg of an international shooting triple-header in Azerbaijan, which began with the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup Final in Gabala last October, and will continue with the 2017 European Championships in the European Games venue in Baku.
Of all the sports featuring on the programme for the inaugural European Games, table tennis is a discipline where the continent’s top players seem among the most excited at the opportunity to compete.
For, in a sport dominated by Asia, or more specifically, by China, Europeans are keen to grasp any opportunity they have to excel at international level, particularly in a major multi-sport environment.
A further incentive is provided by the fact the winners of both men and women’s singles competitions in Baku automatically qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
At September’s European Championships in Lisbon, where only team events were held, European Games qualification was a key goal for many of the athletes and nations competing.
The 14 best placed teams in the “Championship” division automatically qualified, along with host nation Azerbaijan and the winners of the second tier “Challenge” division.
On the men’s side, the participants will be Austria, Belarus, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.
With Portugal shocking perennial European winners Germany in the final in the Portuguese capital, the Germans will be smarting for revenge, while the likes of France, Russia and Sweden will also challenge.
In the women’s event the host nation will be joined by Austria, Belarus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Sweden and Ukraine.
Many of the players from virtually every country are of Chinese origin, and a duel between evenly matched teams from Germany, Austria, Poland and Romania should be tantalising.
As at the Olympic Games, competition will consist only of male and female singles and team events, with no doubles or mixed doubles events taking place.
Each of the participating nations in the team event is entitled to a maximum of two singles entrants, while 13 other athletes have qualified based on the European Table Tennis Union ranking list, taken from the cut-off date of March 1.
Two singles slots have been made available to players from Azerbaijan while a further three
Universality Places for less developed nations have also be allocated.
As in the team event, competition will be evenly matched and unbelievably tight to call. The Germans, led by evergreen veteran Timo Boll and London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Dimitrij Ovtcharov, will be amongt the favourites, though there are 10 or 20 other realistic contenders.
Even some figures from countries not participating in the team event, such as Great Britain’s in-form Paul Drinkhall or Belgium’s 45-year-old Jean-Michel Saive, who is head of the EOC Athletes’ Commission, could compete.
On the women’s side, Shan Xiaona and Han Ying of Germany, Fu Yu of Portugal and Elizabeta Samara of Romania should feature prominently.
As for Azerbaijan, with their top male and female players, Farhad Ismayilov and Maryam Imanova, ranked 534 and 564 respectively in the world rankings, the event should be a great learning curve and an opportunity for the sport.
The crowds will be wowed from June 13 to 19 by one of the fastest sports in the world, whether they are familiar with the intricacies of the game or not.
Having made its first appearance on the Olympic Games programme at Sydney 2000, taekwondo’s popularity has continued to grow in recent years with more than 100 million people practising the sport around the world.
A total of 128 athletes will compete at the Baku Crystal Hall from June 16 to 19, with men contesting the under 58 kilogram, under 68kg, under 80kg and over 80kg categories, and women facing off in the under 49kg, under 57kg, under 67kg and over 67kg classes.
For each weight category, the top 14 athletes in the World Taekwondo Federation Olympic Ranking list qualify directly, with one spot saved for the host nation Azerbaijan and an additional wild card spot to be distributed.
Michele Ceccaroni has been awarded one such spot to compete for San Marino in the men’s under 68kg weight class after taking the gold medal at the Perugia inter-regional tournament.
Reigning European champion Nina Klaey of Switzerland, will battle with Slovenia’s Franka Anic and Spain’s Lua Maria Pineiro Devesa in the women’s under 67kg category while Spaniard Manuela Bezzola has strong pedigree in the women’s under 57kg class having won a bronze medal at the 2010 European Championships and a gold medal at the 2009 Universiade.
Bulgaria will be represented by Vladimir Dalakliev, junior European champion in 2012, and Teodor Georgiev, winner of the Swiss Open earlier this year, in the men’s under 68kg and under 80kg categories respectively.
Meanwhile, Spain’s strong contingent continues with Eva Calvo Gomez competing in the women’s under 57kg, and Brigitte Yague Enrique vying for a gold medal in the women’s under 49kg.
Additionally, Rosanna Simon Alamo will contest the women’s over 67kg, while on the men’s side, Raul Martinez Garcia, Joel Gonzalez and Jesus Tortosa Cabrera will battle for supremacy in the under 80kg, under 68kg and the under 58kg classes correspondingly.
Baku 2015 will see the use of the state-of-the-art Protection Scoring System, which features electronic body protectors that register kicks and punches if they land with sufficient force.
A contest consists of three two-minute rounds with an additional first-point-wins fourth round taking place if competitors are tied.
The WTF was founded in 1973, the same year in which Seoul, hosted the first-ever World Taekwondo Championships.
Taekwondo developed rapidly in the years that followed and was included as a demonstration sport at the Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games before becoming a full medal sport in Sydney.
In July of last year, Baku played host to the inaugural World Cadet Taekwondo Championships giving youngsters aged 12 to 14 a chance to compete at global level and prepare themselves for future competitions as international athletes.
This will no doubt stand the city in good stead as it gets set to welcome Europe’s top taekwondo stars for four days of intense action.
The Baku Crystal Hall, which is located in the centre of the iconic Flag Square Cluster, will provide the perfect setting for what promises to be a memorable competition.
It is often said that variety is the spice of life and not many other sports offer quite as much in this regard as triathlon.
The Azerbaijan capital’s Bilgah Beach, located 42 kilometres north of the city centre, will provide the perfect stage as athletes swim 1500 metres, cycle 40 kilometres and ultimately run 10km in a frantic race to the finish line.
The women’s event on June 13, and the men’s equivalent the following day, will each feature 65 competitors all vying to top the podium and gain their National Olympic Committee direct qualification for the triathlon event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The first qualification event for Baku 2015 was last June’s European Championships in Kitzbühel, Austria, where among those to earn quota places were Russia’s Dmitriy Polyanskiy and Spain’s Vicente Hernandez.
Another Spaniard, Fernando Alarza, came fourth followed by Russia’s Alexander Bryukhankov to complete the quintet.
Quota places six to 58 were then distributed according to the European Triathlon Union points list on December 31, with nations ranging from Israel to Belgium and Portugal to Slovakia having also qualified slots.
A further five solidarity places are available for both men and women, as well as two for the host nation, bringing up the total to 130 triathletes competing at the Games.
It says much about the strength of the sport in Europe that the women’s race at the European Championships produced winners from three different nations to the male one, with Switzerland’s Olympic gold medallist Nicola Spirig triumphing ahead of Germany’s Sophia Saller and Italy’s Annamaria Mazzetti.
Although Azerbaijan had no competitors in last year’s World Series, there are signs of optimism and the European Games should generate further improvement.
President of the European Triathlon Union, Renato Bertrandi, said: “I am very proud that the inaugural European Games are taking place in June in Baku.”
He also highlighted the legacy of the Games for the continent’s athletes, adding: “I am happy that there is a strong desire for the legacy of sporting excellence that we will see in Baku to continue.
“This can only mean good news for triathlon as I am sure it will be the most visually exciting of all the events and will of course inspire athletes to join our great sport.”
Since being pioneered in its modern form in the 1970s, triathlon has enjoyed remarkable improvement after first appearing on the Olympic programme at Sydney 2000.
Fewer than 50 athletes took part in the first recorded race in 1974, organised by a local track and field club in San Diego, United States, as an alternative to standard track training, and in the 40 years since those humble beginnings, the sport’s popularity has exploded.
It is perhaps the best modern encapsulation of the old motto citius, altius, forties - faster, higher, stronger - and, as such, fits perfectly with the spirit organisers of the inaugural European Games are attempting to capture in Baku.
There will be all to play for in the Baku 2015 volleyball competition as qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is up for grabs.
More than 330 athletes are set to participate in the inaugural European Games tournament, which looks likely to be one of the most popular team sports at the event in Azerbaijan’s capital.
There will be two medal events, one for women and one for men, and 12 teams will compete in each at the 25,000-seater Crystal Hall.
The sport is also scheduled to have the most competition days of any on the Baku 2015 programme, with action beginning on June 13 and running through until June 28.
The origins of volleyball date back to 1895 when William G Morgan, an instructor at the Young Men’s Christian Association in the United States, created a new game that combined elements of basketball, baseball, tennis, and handball.
It was called Mintonette back then and could be played by any number of players, and has since evolved to become what is now known globally as volleyball.
It is exciting to watch, with volleyball players jumping up to 300 times in one game and in the men’s game, the ball can reach speeds in excess of 130 kilometres per hour.
The height of the net for men is 2.43 metres and 2.24m for women, the same height also for the beach volleyball discipline.
Its history in the Olympics can be traced back to the 1920 Games, when it featured in an American sports demonstration event.
Volleyball has now been contested as an indoor Olympic sport since Tokyo 1964 and has grown steadily in popularity over the years.
Europe is particularly strong in the sport on the world stage and four of the top five finishers at the 2014 Men’s World Championship came from the continent, with Poland claiming the gold medal and Germany the bronze.
Qualification for Baku 2015 was determined by the European Volleyball Confederation ranking and Euro league participation.
European Championship silver medallists Italy named their provisional European Games men’s squad earlier this year, which included the likes of Elia Bossi, Iacopo Botto, Jacopo Massari, Gabriele Nelli, Giacomo Raffaelli and Luigi Randazzo.
Azerbaijan’s men are drawn into Group A at the Baku 2015 tournament and will face Serbia, Poland, France, Finland and Turkey, while Group B features Russia, Italy, Bulgaria, Germany, Belgium and Slovakia.
The women’s Group A comprises the hosts, Italy, Turkey, Poland, Belgium and Romania, while Group B consists of Russia, Serbia, Germany, The Netherlands, Croatia and Bulgaria.
Beach volleyball is also sure to be a popular part of the programme at Baku 2015, featuring 64 teams competing for gold in the men’s and women’s tournaments.
As the host country, Azerbaijan will be represented by two men’s and two women’s pairs.
All other qualification for the competition, which will take place at the Beach Arena, is determined by the European rankings, with a maximum of two duos per gender from any one country. A total of 25 different countries will be represented in Baku across the men’s and women’s competitions.
André Meyer, President of the European Volleyball Confederation said: “The European Volleyball Confederation look forward to what will be a fantastic celebration of sport this summer.”
Azerbaijan’s most popular sport could provide the perfect start for the hosts at the inaugural European Games.
The country won their first Olympic medal in their very first Olympic Games, in wrestling, courtesy of a freestyle flyweight silver for Namig Abdullayev at Atlanta 1996. Since then, four of the country’s six gold medals have come in the sport, including one for Abdullayev himself at Sydney 2000.
Wrestling is considered one of the keys to Baku and Azerbaijan embracing the 2015 European Games. With medal-action beginning on June 13, the day after the Opening Ceremony, it is the most likely sport in which an early Azerbaijani medal will be won, a sure-fire way of ensuring home support.
Held in the City Cluster in the newly refurbished Heydar Aliyev Arena, wrestling will be at the geographical centre of the Games, and this is yet another reason why it should engage the local population.
As if this is not enough, an extra layer of tension will be added because the competition will also incorporate the 2015 Senior European Wrestling Championships, already one of the most prestigious and high-quality events on the calendar.
Modern Olympic wrestling consists of two forms: Greco-Roman and freestyle. While both have the same objective of dispatching the opponent onto the mat on their back to win a point, the difference is that, in Greco-Roman, participants can only use their arms and trunk to attack and immobilise their adversary, while in freestyle participants can also use their legs.
Fights take place on an octagonal mat, with each bout lasting for two periods of three minutes with a 30-second break. The winner is declared by the addition of points accrued in both periods, with bouts declared over automatically if one wrestler takes an eight point lead in Greco-Roman, or a 10 point lead in freestyle.
The wrestling programme for Baku 2015 is the same format as that set to be used for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, based on the new weight categories introduced by United World Wrestling in December 2013. The principal difference from the previous format is the greater number of events for women, with eight events now taking place in all three disciplines of men and women’s freestyle. Women remain yet to compete in Greco-Roman events.
The eight men’s freestyle divisions range from 57kg to 125kg, while women’s freestyle range from 48kg to 75kg and Greco-Roman from 59kg to a whopping 130kg.
As well as the first multi-sport test of the new format, Baku 2015 has already wielded extra significance for the sport due to its importance in helping wrestling’s return to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020.
The sport was controversially dropped from the list of Olympic sports in February 2013 only to be returned at the International Olympic Committee Session in Buenos Aires later that year, where the sport won a first-round majority in a three-way battle with squash and baseball/softball.
An agreement, signed in March 2013, to add wrestling to the Baku 2015 programme, was a means to illustrate the sport’s flexibility and ability to adapt to change. The European Games is thus seen as a critical stepping stone for revitalising the sport.