Azad Rahimov provided a strong defence of the success of the inaugural European Games here today ©Getty Images

Azerbaijan Youth and Sports Minister Azad Rahimov has claimed the success of the European Games, which closed here last night, has not been overshadowed by criticism received internationally in the build-up, criticising those who have used the event to "further personal agendas".

Rahimov, who is also chief executive of Baku 2015, also claimed that sport should not be overshadowed by politics.

It follows criticism of alleged human rights abuses in Azerbaijan in the build-up to the Opening Ceremony, which increased when a British journalist from The Guardian newspaper was denied accreditation to cover the Games.

But Rahimov claimed the Ceremonies, coupled with the success of the sport in venues widely praised for their excellence over the past 17 days, had shown the world all that is good about Azerbaijan, insisting that "positive waves" have triumphed over negative ones.

He said: "We have demonstrated to the entire world a brilliant Opening and Closing Ceremony. 

"Normal people would never attack such a great event.

"I guess these people are lacking something in their heads if they are asking these type of questions."

Successful sporting action and both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies overshadowed any criticism of the Games, Azad Rahimov insists ©Getty Images
Successful sporting action and both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies overshadowed any criticism of the European Games, Azerbaijan Youth and Sports Minister Azad Rahimov has claimed ©Getty Images

He cited the number of European leaders - predominantly from Eastern rather than Western Europe - who attended the Games as evidence of support, as well as the representation from a large number of International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials, including President Thomas Bach.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Baku 2015 chief operating officer Simon Clegg, Rahimov outlined success enjoyed in every aspect of of the Games, ranging from broadcasting and social media presence to a swimming competition criticised for featuring only teenage athletes, which nonetheless produced several world junior records.

Earlier, Clegg, had been among those recognised at a special awards lunch held by President Ilham Aliyev today.

As well as several other key figures from Baku 2015, including communications director Colin Gibson, others honoured included European Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey, Rahimov himself and Aliyev's wife, the First Lady and Baku 2015 chair, Mehriban Aliyeva, who received a special Heydar Aliyev award.

"[The] European Games has got an amazing future ahead of it, in 2019 and 2023," said Clegg, who claimed this inaugural edition will have a huge impact for Azerbaijan, both in terms of a physical and a human legacy.

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