Turkish and Armenian lifters embrace each other on the podium following the men's 81 kilograms category ©Brian Oliver

The President of the Turkish Weightlifting Federation has spoken glowingly about the efforts of Armenia in hosting the European Weightlifting Championships - a week after speculation that the team would withdraw.

The speculation followed an incident at the Opening Ceremony on April 14 that made global news, when an Armenian ran from the crowd, grabbed the Azerbaijan flag from the young woman holding it during the parade of nations and set it alight.

Azerbaijan’s Government ordered its team to withdraw and fly home, citing security fears after the "barbaric act".

Turkey, like Azerbaijan, has no diplomatic relations with Armenia after conflicts and killings that date back more than 100 years.

"The Azerbaijan team went but we stayed," said Talat Unlu, whose team has so far won more medals than any nation except the hosts.

"For a weightlifting championship this is the best I have seen, the best competition hall, training area, warm-up.

"We can’t deny because of one miserable thing the good organisation that the Armenian Federation did.

"Here the security are taking very good care of us and until now we have had no problems.

"Of course there will be some protesters, that is normal, it’s something that’s in human nature.

"From the first day till now there is only one disgusting thing that happened, and that is the burning of the Azerbaijan flag.

"Everything has been perfect since the Opening Ceremony."

Turkish Weightlifting Federation President Talat Unlu has spoken glowingly about Armenia's hosting of the European Championships ©Brian Oliver
Turkish Weightlifting Federation President Talat Unlu has spoken glowingly about Armenia's hosting of the European Championships ©Brian Oliver

In February Turkey will host the 2024 European Championships, which like this event are an important Olympic qualifier, and later next year Armenia is hoping to host the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships in Yerevan.

The IWF Board will select a host from bidders - Peru, Venezuela, Albania, Bahrain and Armenia - in June.

"Armenia have not had problems before (in Turkey) and will not in Antalya," said Unlu.

"Of course there will be security to take care of them.

"They can walk around Antalya with their uniform, with their flag, and they won’t face any problem."

Asked if Turkey would be happy to return to Armenia for the IWF World Championships, if it is chosen as host, Unlu said: "This is a decision for IWF.

"If they make such a decision we will respect that, of course we will come here, no problem.

"I have one condition though: we don’t want an escort, we just want to be like the other teams. Let them treat us like all the other teams."

Karen Giloyan, Armenia’s deputy minister of education, science, culture and sport, said: "We are very pleased to hear that Turkey has been impressed with the competition, and has felt safe here.

"We look forward to competing in Antalya, and we hope to see Turkey here again next year."

The noisy fans in Yerevan have not been to everyone's taste during the European Weightlifting Championships ©Brian Oliver
The noisy fans in Yerevan have not been to everyone's taste during the European Weightlifting Championships ©Brian Oliver

Many athletes, coaches and federation officials have joined Unlu in making favourable comments about Armenia’s efforts in hosting the European Championships for the first time - although there was a complaint from Cyrille Tchatchet, the British member of the IWF Athletes Commission.

After lifting in front of a big, noisy crowd in the men’s 96 kilograms yesterday, Tchatchet said the overall organisation of the event had been very good but the crowd’s behaviour was unacceptable.

Tchatchet said the fans have cheered failures by other athletes that improve the Armenians’ medal chances - they have done so several times, most notably for Turkish and Italian contenders - and make too much noise when athletes are preparing to lift.

"This is not weightlifting," he said.

"It should be like tennis, we need silence when we are preparing."

The France coach Arnaud Ferrari said: "We are very happy to be here, because in Armenia weightlifting is the sport number one.

"The welcome is very warm and organisation is very beautiful, Olympic-standard."

Danish coach Anders Bendix said the organisation was "the best I have ever seen" and told an Armenian interviewer: "I hope you get World Championships next year, I’d really enjoy to come back."

The top two officials at the European Weightlifting Federation, President Antonio Conflitti and general secretary Milan Mihajlovic, both praised the level of organisation in Armenia, as did IWF vice-president Attila Adamfi from Hungary and Board member Florian Sperl from Germany - although they were all unimpressed by the flag incident.

"I don’t remember such a level of organisation in other tournaments... I think this is the best Championship I have ever seen," said Conflitti.

"Although the event started with challenges, the conclusion of all participants is that the European Championship is excellent," added Mihajlovic.

"I sincerely appreciate Armenia for all their efforts and for hosting such a wonderful event. We hope for more events in Yerevan."

Read more on the flag-burning controversy and its fallout in today's blog from Brian here