While a relative newcomer to the world of hosting international sporting events, Baku has quickly established itself as a popular host city with a lot to offer.
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Baku is getting ready to serve as one of the 12 host cities for EURO 2020. The general secretary of the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA), Elkhan Mammadov, describes the association’s plans for the EURO, why Baku is a great destination for football fans, and the legacy that is being built.
“We built a strategy so that Baku would become a sporting hub in the future, and slowly we are getting there. Baku will become a sporting hub,” he says, recognising the commitment shown by the association and local stakeholders, who are already driving to make the EURO a success in Baku.
So, what attracted the City of Winds – as Baku is known because of the sweeping gusts from the Caspian Sea – to becoming a EURO host? The city’s pedigree in staging major events is growing, and shaping football in Azerbaijan for years to come is the AFFA’s motivation.
“The legacy will be having more people to play football, to grow the game,” Mammadov says. “Football is a sport, a sport that will never stop growing. Moreover, in the last few years, its popularity has increased remarkably. Yes, there are other sports as well, and interest in them has also increased. However, football has always been the most popular sport of them all.
“For us, it is important to maintain the level of interest in football in the country and in the region as well. The legacy for us will be more kids playing football, more kids going outside and leaving their computers behind and playing football, therefore, encouraging a healthier lifestyle and building a healthier nation.”
In perfect harmony
The largest city on the coast of the Caspian Sea, Baku is the lowest-lying capital in the world, at 28 metres below sea level. Baku is also home to the Baku Olympic Stadium, which will host three group matches plus a quarter-final at EURO 2020.
A city that has benefitted from rapid expansion in recent years, Baku also boasts a rich historical heritage, including Icheri Sheher, the old town, home to various cultural sites and the grand 15th-century Shirvanshahs Palace. Keen to showcase the impressive capital, Mammadov is looking forward to welcoming fans from across Europe, and beyond.
”Baku has the advantage of being a city of harmony, with both a historic part which is very interesting and attractive for sightseeing, and also a modern part with different art exhibitions as well as different modern attractions,” he says. “Moreover, Baku is a sporting hub, with different sporting activities. So, tourists can enjoy three major sides of the city during their stay in Baku. All these sites are very close to each other, some even within walking distance.
An unmissable party
In addition to promoting regional engagement and supporting fan mobility, Mammadov wants to see EURO 2020 leave a profound and lasting impact on the people of Baku. “For 2020, we are building a story of the EURO in general in Baku, and in neighbouring countries,” Mammadov adds. “Because we want the whole region to feel the thrill of EURO 2020. There will be different exciting activities organised in the city and we are going to extend the duration of the fan zone experience, so people can come and enjoy themselves there, and then go to the matches to support their teams.”
Mammadov also explains how the buzz of the EURO will land in Baku long before the matches begin. “We want to build the fan zones before the event starts. So, maybe 30 days before the event, the fan zones will already be open. Volunteers, fans and tourists will be able to come and feel part of the event, including tourists who are not there for the matches. This is very important. And I think this will create a kind of competition among the fans as well because the 12 host cities will have their own fans.
“Prior to the event, we are planning to have different EURO-related competitions and there will be different sporting activities, not only football. Additional entertainment programmes will be arranged closer to the date. We are planning to have a calendar of events to promote EURO 2020 and the other host cities and, of course, to connect with the fans in the other 11 cities.”
Mammadov’s message to fans is: “Simply enjoy the EURO as much as possible. The event will last 30 days. Take the opportunity to take 30 days off, take a holiday and enjoy all 12 host cities.”
Situated on the shores of the Caspian Sea, Baku is the most easterly of the EURO 2020 host cities and will leave a striking impression when it welcomes the EURO for the first time. Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, also known as the Land of Fire, and the natural gas fires burning on the hillside of the nearby Yanar Dag mountain are certainly a sight to behold. The Flame Towers skyscrapers in the city centre echo this natural phenomenon, lending a modern face to an ancient city. New too is the Baku Olympic Stadium that opened in 2015, has already staged Qarabağ FK’s UEFA Champions League group matches and the UEFA Europa League final this season.
13 June: Group A match
17 June: Group A match
21 June: Group A match
4 July: Quarter-final
Baku Olympic Stadium
This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 184