Baku 2020 Would Transform Paralympic Sports in Azerbaijan
Baku, 9 May 2012 – Hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Baku in 2020 would be ‘an amazing boost’ for disabled sports in Azerbaijan, according to two of the country’s leading Paralympians.
Ilham Zakiyev and Afaq Sultanova, both judokas, say that while disabled sports in Azerbaijan has accelerated enormously in recent years, winning the honour of hosting the Games would completely transform the landscape for disabled sportsmen and sportswomen in the country.
Zakiyev, 32, a fifth Dan black belt who won gold medals in Athens and Beijing in the 100+ kg division, said: “To bring the Paralympic Games to Baku would be fantastic for disabled athletes throughout the entire region. This bid represents a unique opportunity for the world to discover modern Baku, and to encourage our young people with disabilities to participate in sports and to get inspired to realise their full potential in life.”
Zakiyev, also a three-times European and twice World champion, added: “The government is already building a number of facilities for Paralympic sports around the country, but I am certain that this programme would accelerate enormously if we are successful in our Bid. Even now, while we are still only bidding, it is already boosting the profile of Paralympic sports in Azerbaijan.”
Sultanova, 25, a World Champion in 2010 and 2011, said: “You can see the number of elite Azerbaijani Paralympic athletes increasing year by year. In Beijing, there were 18 in our team, but already for London we have 22 qualifications and we are expecting to have 25 overall.”
In addition to numbers, the Azerbaijani team now includes participants in a number of new sporting disciplines. For example, Azerbaijani archer Zinyat Valiyeva is the first ever to qualify for her country.
Sultanova concluded: “Competing at this high level demonstrates that, despite whatever disability we may have, there is no limit to what we can achieve. That is an incredibly important message to get out to everyone in Azerbaijan – not just relating to sport, but in every aspect of life.
“The Paralympic Games is a truly inspirational event. It teaches us all to believe in ourselves – and in our unlimited potential to achieve whatever we set out to do.”
Currently in Azerbaijan, there is one sports facility for visually impaired athletes under construction in Baku. The government has also recently announced plans to establish a further two Paralympic sports centres, one in Ganja and the other in Nakhichevan.
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