European Games: No concern over rush to be ready for maiden event in Baku, says CEO

A picture taken on Oct 17, 2014, shows employees standing in front of the swimming pool of the Aquatics Center in Baku. The head of next year's inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan said he had "no concerns" on Saturday about Baku not being rea
A picture taken on Oct 17, 2014, shows employees standing in front of the swimming pool of the Aquatics Center in Baku. The head of next year's inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan said he had "no concerns" on Saturday about Baku not being ready despite revealing that three-quarters of venues are yet to be finished. -- PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - The head of next year's inaugural European Games in Azerbaijan said he had "no concerns" on Saturday about Baku not being ready despite revealing that three-quarters of venues are yet to be finished.

Organising committee CEO Simon Clegg admitted it was a race against time in the former Soviet republic, with the 68,000-seat main stadium still under construction 217 days before the opening ceremony in the capital.

But he backed workers to finish the remaining 12 of 16 permanent and temporary venues - including Azerbaijan's first and only 50-metre swimming pool - before the European Games' debut in June.

"Let's just say that they lay concrete very quickly in Azerbaijan," the former British Olympic chief said on the sidelines of the Association of National Olympic Committees general assembly.

"I'm incredibly confident," he told reporters in Bangkok, adding that a European Olympic Committees evaluation group was also comfortable with Baku's progress.

"This is not an issue, believe me I have no concerns."

Baku, on the Caspian Sea, will host the first edition of what will be a quadrennial event held in the year preceding the Olympics, with 6,200 athletes contesting medals in 20 sports next June.

Three-on-three basketball, beach football, karate and Russian martial art sambo are the only non-Olympic sports, while athletics is a two-day team event and swimming is at junior level.

Street athletics, in the form of high jump and pole vault, will also be held on the seafront Baku Boulevard, events that will "bring sport to the masses" by eschewing the usual stadia.

Clegg said the Azeri capital had to "muscle our way into a congested sports programme" and at short notice, with just 30 months between getting the go-ahead last December and the opening ceremony.

"That's an incredibly short lead time, just 30 months to deliver this Games compared with seven years which you would normally expect for an Olympic or Olympic winter Games," he said.

"As you walk into the office there's a countdown clock that says 'Every second counts'. So really from the moment we were awarded the Games we were always up against it on a tight time-scale," he added.

But Clegg said many broadcasters and sponsors were already in place and that he had to turn down 14 sports which also wanted to be part of the Baku Games.

"People question the background to this event and do people really want it. That's the best way that I can demonstrate it is by the number of sports that we've simply turned away," he said.

Ticket sales are likely to be a concern with up to 900,000 seats to fill and no track record of major sports events in a country which only gained independence in 1991.

Costs have not been revealed, and it remains unclear which star athletes will turn up, although 11 of the sports have qualifying components for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Unlike bidding for the Olympics, tenders for future Games will be decided in-house by the European Olympic Committee. Clegg said negotiations with several cities were in "advanced stages".

"This is not about building new facilities and leaving white elephants where they're not needed. This is about moulding a Games around the existing infrastructure of a city and a country," he said.

Clegg added: "We need to always go back and recognise this country is only 23 years old. It's lived for decades under Soviet rule and domination and so they're playing catch-up in many areas."