Konul Nurullayeva is presented with a plaque by Spyros Capralos, the European Olympic Committees Coordination Commission chairman, during the Baku 2015 athletes welcome ceremony ©Getty Images

Konul Nurullayeva
Chef de Mission, Azerbaijan

1)    Why has it taken so long for Europe to stage its first continental Games?
Considering that we are only 25 years old as an independent country, I can say that it took us a long [time to] stage these Games. I think we all our best to improve during these past years and all visitors can come and see it’s a reality. Of course, until the European Games it’s the first time a multi-sport [event has been held] in Azerbaijan. But before the European Games, we hosted several European Championships, World Championships, several types of sport events and non-sport events as well. We have experience but of course not in a such scale. 

2)    What makes Baku the perfect host city to stage the inaugural European Games?
For us, of course, it’s a very important event because first of all we want Azerbaijan to be on a stage, to be seen, to be known well and to show the realities of our country to the world - to world communities, sport communities, and non-sport communities. It’s really very important for all of us - promotion, promotion of our country, and of course at the same time we have a lot of things, starting from the traditions, the culture, the beauty of our country that we want people to feel, and also the hospitality and friendship to establish the best relationships in world communities. 

3)    How big do you think your team for Baku 2015 will be and how many sports will you be represented in?
We have 291 athletes and the whole delegation consists of 444. That’s a nice even number. Some officials plus athletes are included. It’s the biggest delegation ever in the history of Azerbaijan. Regarding sports, we’re participating in all 20. It’s also the first time in the history of Azerbaijan that we’re attending a multi-sport event in all sports. We also have new sports such as triathlon. It’s very important for us that our sport communities acquaint with a new sport and we will show the new sport to our society. It will help us to demonstrate sport in our country.

I spoke to Konul Nurullayeva at the Baku 2015 Athletes' Village today
I spoke to Konul Nurullayeva at the Baku 2015 Athletes' Village today ©ITG

4)    How important is it for the success and appeal of the European Games that some sports afford athletes the opportunity to qualify for Olympic Games?
Yeah definitely. The European Games gives us 12 sports in which to qualify for the Rio [2016] Olympic Games and considering this fact, of course it will be very helpful if our athletes do so. It means that at the Rio [2016] Olympics we will have more athletes, more medals and more types of sport and we have huge chances in the European Games. I think that our athletes will all do their best and will achieve success, and we will be able to present during the Rio [2016] Olympic Games in a different scale and different type of sports.

5)    What is the significance of the Games for the European Olympic Movement and how confident are you that they will become sport’s flagship event on the continent?
Of course this European Games is really very important for the European Olympic Committees and it’s really very important for us as a host city and all our stakeholders, partners, and friends. This is the first time for Azerbaijan is hosting a multi-sport event and after this event, I’m sure that we will be successful. We have many guests for the European Games from all over the world, from different spheres and they will be able to see the realities and of course it will be very helpful in all spheres, in all communications for our country.

6)    How impressed have you been by the facilities to be used for the European Games and the work of the Baku 2015 Organising Committee in ensuring their delivery and readiness?
Of course, I think that BEGOC [Baku 2015 European Games Operation Committee] did a really great job together with the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan, together with the Minister of Sport and Youth and of course with the support of the European Olympic Committees and our Government. They all tried their best to stage these Games on the level of the Olympics and it’s really very important for all of us. You can see it in the facilities - sport facilities and non-sport facilities - and even the venues - competition and non-competition. It doesn’t matter. Everything is arranged on a very high level and considering that we had only two-and-a-half years, only 30 months for the preparation of these Games – usually it lasts six or seven years for the Olympics and for non-Olympic Games multi-sport events – I think that we all tried our best. In a very short time we did the best for athletes, for our main client groups, and of course for our guests. 

The Opening Ceremony of the Baku 2015 European Games is just hours away
The Opening Ceremony of the Baku 2015 European Games is just hours away ©Getty Images

7)    Are there any sports not represented that you would like to see in the European Games? 
Twenty sports is a huge number of sports and in the Olympics we have 26 plus two usually. I think that it depends on the host city. For us, the sports which are included in our programme were the best ones. In fact, they’re not even the best ones, they’re like the most suitable for our [Games] and therefore the European Olympic Committees, and therefore the European Federations of course. But for the future it depends on the communication between the European Olympic Committees and the Federations, and of course for the next hosts. For me,  all sports are equal. Either they’re already created, which means they have their own specification, they have their own spectators. I mean I can’t say exactly which I want to see personally. I want to just see a multi-sport event with as many sports as possible. It makes our Games more interesting, more flexible for athletes but again it depends on the hosts and the next host city.

8)    How symbolic is it that the first ever European Games will take place in a country that has experienced a major re-birth of its own since gaining independence in 1991? 
For me, I have been involved in several Olympics and also multi-sport events as Chef de Mission and also as deputy Chef de Mission. It’s the first time being hosts and I’m Chef de Mission as a host. It’s completely different feelings, completely different management, completely different situation. It’s a real honour I think being a host and being Chef de Mission. It’s a huge privilege for a person, for me in this case, for the others of course in another case, and I think that it's also a huge responsibility, maybe twice more than for a normal Chef de Mission, when they’re travelling to another country. I understand it completely and I’m sure that all Chef de Missions, also understand their role very well and we will all try our best to make sure that our athletes will benefit from the conditions created for them - all athletes. For us, it’s really very important to be very successful, to be on the top of the rankings, to have more medals. Of course, all Chef de Missions, all the countries want the same, but when you’re hosts, when you’re spectating in your own country it’s a completely different feeling, it’s more emotional, more sensitive. Of course I wish all the countries the best of luck definitely - to my athletes as well. 

9)    How interested do you think the public in your country will be in the Games?
I think that they will be really very interested because just considering the statistical information today, the opening day, we have no single ticket [unsold] for the Opening Ceremony. A 68,000 capacity stadium full. It shows the interest of people and I’m sure that during the competitions we will see the same situation. There are, of course, several sports in which there are more entries in our country - traditional sports. We also have new sports. Let’s see how people react, but from the statistics it shows that the tickets are already sold out and we’ll be fine. 

10)    What are you looking forward to most at Baku 2015?
For me personally, I think that Baku 2015 will be very successful and it will open all doors to our country. I’m sure our country will benefit from this and people who have no idea about our country, or who have very little information about our country, will be able to know one of the best secrets of the world. Considering that more than 100 [countries will provide] coverage of these Games worldwide, it’s huge. Of course I’m sure that everything will be fine. Let’s see how it works. Fingers crossed.

Interview by Daniel Etchells