There is great interest towards BMX World Championships in Baku
Exclusive interview to AZERTAG by Sahib Alakbarov, Head of BMX WC Work Group and 1st Vice President of Azerbaijan Cycling Federation
Baku, 30 May, Azertag
Azerbaijan will be holding yet another great international sports event on 5-9 June. Baku will host the BMX World Championships, which is worthily considered one of the most authoritative competitions in the world.
Sahib Alakbarov, 1st Vice President of Azerbaijan Cycling Federation, member of UEC Management Board and the head of the Work Group, established to organize the 2018 BMX World Championships, has answered the questions of Azertag correspondent.
- Mr. Alakbarov, President Ilham Aliyev has numerously stated that Azerbaijan is a well-known sports country. Reputable sports event held in our country also play a great role in turning Azerbaijan into a sports venue. Could you speak about the BMX World Championships to be held in early June, the sport itself and its importance for Azerbaijan?
- Like all other sports in Azerbaijan, cycling has also been recognizably developing fast in the country recently and our country started hosting cycling competitions included in international calendars. In 2012, Azerbaijan hosted for the first time an international road cycling competition for athletes under 23. Since 2013, we have been holding “Tour d’Azerbaidjan” international cycling competitions as a dedication to the birthday of the National Leader Heydar Aliyev.
BMX is a somewhat new sport. It lived a popularity boost in the USA in the 70s and spread to other continents. It is now one of the most spectacular events, which attracts the biggest audiences.
Among Olympic sports, we have until now hosted wrestling, boxing and rhythmic gymnastics world championships. The BMX World Championships, which is an Olympic cycling event, will be the 4th world championship Azerbaijan will host.
Other than being a great sports event, the championships is also significant in developing tourism in Azerbaijan and promoting our country in the international arena. Until now, athletes from around 60 countries have announced their participation at the championship.
One of the unique features of the BMX World Championships is that children and teenagers are also participating in the competition. Until now 1304 athletes in the “Challenge” group and 216 athletes in the Elite group have registered for the race. Overall, 1520 athletes will be competing at the event. 714 of them are under 15. Of course, they do not arrive alone and they are accompanied with parents and families. Thousands of tourists will arrive at our capital city to watch the World Championships. We have done a lot to introduce them to the history, culture, art and cuisine of Azerbaijan. We believe that our guests will leave Azerbaijan with the best of impressions like they always do.
The BMX park in Baku was built in 2014 and it hosted the BMX cycling event within the First European Games. However, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) changed the standards for BMX stadiums in 2016. They introduced changes into the track length and width, turn heights and obstacle configuration. In this regard, we had take down and rebuild the track. At the moment, we have a beautiful stadium, which corresponds to international standards fully. We held an international Test Event in October last year. Since early 2018, teams from Japan, Australia, Netherlands, France, Germany and Russia have come to Baku to practice at the track. All of them gave a very positive feedback about our park and the conditions created there.
- By the way, why was the BMX stadium built there exactly?
- There is a story behind it. The Velopark, the stadium is in, is located at one of the three main entrances, the south-west entrance to Baku. Many people might not know this now, but there used to be quarries in those territories. The location, the stadium is now, used to be always swamped except the summer months with rain and ground waters from the surrounding mountains. The wind would stir dust, which painted a very unpleasant landscape.
National Leader Heydar Aliyev has done a lot in order to flourish Azerbaijan, especially Baku. He issued an order to build a park in those territories in early 70s. Water was installed from the Ganli Gol (Bloody lake), large water cisterns were built on top of the mountains near Badamdar and the water was used to irrigate the lower parts. I would also like to underline that all these measures were done without allocating state funds through voluntary clean up works and Heydar Aliyev became a role model through participating at the events personally. We have been able to obtain unique video footage of the first person in the country personally at work and posted it on the official website (www.azvif.az) of Azerbaijan Cycling Federation. Some of the pine and olive trees that Heydar Aliyev planted with his own hands 50 years ago are still there. We still preserve the plaques in Cyrillic near those trees, which show who those trees were planted by.
Unfortunately, the park was neglected in the 90s and most of the trees simply dried as they were not irrigated. It was the time when different people captured the territories, fenced them and built houses there.
On 1 September 2005, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited those territories and commissioned to eliminate those illegal constructions. And only after that they started taking measures to prevent the unlawfulness there.
In 2013, we addressed the head of state to allocate these territories to Azerbaijan Cycling Federation and he supported us.
Within the last 5 years, we, as the Federation, built a beautiful Velopark there. We installed cycling tracks, planted over 100 thousand trees and bushes, installed water lines and built trickle irrigation and drainage systems. Using this opportunity, I would like to thank the head of state, who created this opportunity for us, and everybody else, who helped us in this project.
- What role will this world championships play in promoting Azerbaijan? Which foreign media and TV outlets will cover the championship?
- Cycling is the second sport after Formula-1 races in terms of promoting the country. It should suffice to notice that 32 million people in 56 countries watched the “Tour d’Azerbaidjan” competition last year through 72 TV channels. The numbers grow even more if we also consider websites and social networks. Several countries, including Azerbaijan, will broadcast the BMX World Championships in Baku live. Numerous journalists from all over the world will travel to Baku to cover the championship and we have already started to accredit them. The video shooting will be provided by a local company, Baku Media Center.
We will be hosting concerts and excursions and other mass cultural events on the competition days to promote the country. Heydar Aliyev Foundation has initiated an exhibition of miniature models of the Maiden Tower, a symbol of both Baku and this championship, and gazelle figures by artists from different countries. Our guests will be able to taste our cuisine and be introduced to our customs and traditions.
Theatres and concert halls in Baku will also adjust their programs accordingly. We will organize different excursions and create opportunities to inform athletes, tourists and guests about the culture and history of Azerbaijan.
- The Caucasian Leopard was chosen as the mascot of the championship. What is the story behind it?
- There are five animal species in Azerbaijan that are about to go extinct. One of them is the Caucasian leopard. Our country has been taking serious measures in this regard for several years. Baku even hosted an international summit on the issue in 2014. Especially the Vice President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Leyla Aliyeva, has been working really efficiently in this direction.
It is no coincidence that we chose the Caucasian leopard. It has many similarities to this sport. The leopard is the symbol of speed and agility. Speed and agility are what defines victory in BMX races.
- There are numerous countries, who want to host the World Championships and there is great competition. Countries apply to host the event 3-4 years prior and the choice is made accordingly. How did it happen that Azerbaijan was granted the right to host this year’s championship?
- The fact that the world championships was entrusted to Azerbaijan is connected to the sports infrastructure created in the country and the vast experience of our country in organizing sports events.
The heads of international and European Cycling Union, who participated at the 2015 First European Games, were able to see firsthand the base created here and care and attention of the government and personally President Ilham Aliyev towards sports and came forward with an initiative to organize the BMX World Championships in Baku in 2018.
Our head of state supported this initiative and we started preparing after that.
On 15 November 2017 President Ilham Aliyev signed a Decree on organizing the competition and established an Organizing Committee. The head of the committee is the First Deputy of the Prime Minister Yagub Eyyubov and it includes representatives of leading ministries, as well as relevant government bodies and sports organizations. We are about to conclude our preparations for the championship with the support and help of the Committee.
- The championships is in less than a week. Is Baku ready for the BMX World Championships?
- Yes, our stadium is completely ready to host the event. We are also about to finalize all organizational issues. As we picked up the baton at last year’s world championships in the USA, we have launched large-scale promotion campaigns in different directions to motivate athletes to come to compete here. I have to especially underline the works, carried out through the official webpage of the championship and social networks. We can now confidently say that there is great interest towards the world championships in Baku. I would like to show a little example. Two months ago, I saw a bus at the stadium with Saint Petersburg license plate. There were many children and teenagers practicing. While we talked, I found out that these were the teenagers, who will compete in the “Challenge” age group. The parents had rented a bus on their own expense and brought their children to Baku so that they could practice here.
Those, who want to experience the championship firsthand, may buy their tickets online through www.iticket.az or at the ticket stands at the entrance of the Velopark.
The access to recreation and entertainment zone in the Velopark will be free of charge. Those, who want to travel to Velopark on public transport, may do so by buses number 125 and 205 or take advantage of the special bus service we will launch from Azneft Square to Velopark.
Everybody, who come to the Velopark in these 5 days, will be able to watch the sports race from 5 to 9 June and have a great time at the beautiful facilities in the park created for them.
The “Challenge” races will take place on 6-7 June from 09:30 until late in the evening. The Elite races will happen on 8-9 June from 20:30 to 23:00.
We would like to invite all our Baku citizens and the guests of our city to this great sports holiday that we will host in our beautiful venue.