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Solidarity Games coming over Baku horizon

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    Agence France-Presse

Baku, Azerbaijan   /   Tue, May 2, 2017   /   07:04 pm
Solidarity Games coming over Baku horizon The 4th Islamic Solidarity Games is a multinational, multi-sport event which will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan from May 12 to 22. (AFP/Baku 2017)

Azerbaijan is almost ready for the Islamic Solidarity Games, with the first of the teams due to start arriving on Thursday.

The football competition gets underway next Monday, and Azerbaijan coach Yashar Vahabzade named his 23-man squad for the Group A games against Cameroon, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

The other side of the draw sees Palestine make another appearance at an international tournament, after their surprise qualification for the 2015 Asian Cup, alongside Oman, Algeria and Turkey.

In the previous two editions to have gone ahead, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia both topped the medals tables as the host nation, so the pressure is on Azerbaijan to deliver.

Former Mongolian champion Bazarragchaa Erdenebat was added to the women's judo team, along with her compatriots Munkhtsedev Ichinkhorloo and Purevsuren Buyankhishig, the team announced on Tuesday.

The biggest coup though was that of Ukrainian Iryna Kindzerska, who won bronze in the under-78kg category at the 2013 European championships and narrowly missed out on a medal at the London 2012 Olympics.

The combat sports will be key to their hopes of following in the footsteps of Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, with many foreign-born athletes harbouring real medal ambitions in judo, karate and wrestling, while the taekwondo team picked up eight medals at the Presidents Cup event in Athens last weekend.

The city itself also had a warm-up with the hosting of a rhythmic gymnastics World Cup event, although the home team did not fare as well as hoped with number one Marina Durunda not taking part.

The 19-year-old will return for the Solidarity Games though, and will compete for a possible four individual gold medals.

 

 

- Long-term Olympic ambition -

 

 

For now the focus is on winning plenty of medals in the Games, with 'victory days' planned to celebrate any of the 335 Azerbaijani athletes who manage to strike gold.

But the longer-term goal is clearly to win the rights to host the Olympics, and a top official on Monday said that the country would not give up on that dream.

"I think that it's the dream of the country, and we are on that road," said Azerbaijan Islamic Solidarity Games Operations Committee (AISGOC) corporate director Elchin Safarov.

"We were ready for 2024, but it's the dream and we will go for it. We're not going to stop on this.

"For every Olympic meeting we will give our candidacy for this city."

Sixteen top-level venues will be used for next week's Games, as all 57 Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation countries will compete for the first time, across 20 different sports.

But everything would need to be scaled up for a possible Summer Olympics.

"It's the plan. But of course I know that for the Olympics we will need another airport, two more big stadiums, and to increase the capacity of the athletes' village from 6,000 to 30,000," Safarov admitted.

"And that's another project, but we know that."

The Games will be kicked off by the football tournament on May 8, with the opening ceremony four days later.