If anyone’s looking for an extravagant venue for upcoming nuptials, Azerbaijan is now renting a new, $640.5-million stadium in its capital, Baku, for weddings. Built specifically for the 2015 European Games, a quasi-Olympic contest, the arena now stands as an empty, 68,195-seat testimony to the hydrocarbon-blessed country’s runaway spending on international-attention-grabbing, mega-undertakings.
That the stadium is open for wedding parties may be an exciting opportunity for well-heeled Azerbaijanis to score the event of their lifetime, but many Bakuvians criticize what they deem an embarrassing waste of taxpayer money by President Ilham Aliyev’s government on glitzy, one-off vanity projects.
“This stadium is the apotheosis of a mindless waste of money and corruption,” Ali Kerimli, chairperson of the opposition National Front of Azerbaijan Party, told the Kavkazsky Uzel news site. The millions could instead have been invested in creating jobs, he added.
Some Facebook users joked that soccer stars like Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo should be invited as tamadas, Caucasus-style party emcees, for the stadium’s weddings.
The criticism is exacerbated by Azerbaijan’s slow-mo economic meltdown amidst falling oil prices. The decline in oil-linked revenues led to a roughly 32-percent devaluation of the manat in December and prompted unusually brazen rallying against the government, criticized internationally for its roughed treatment of dissent.
The ailing economy, though, has not discouraged the Aliyev government from major international sports events. Plans to hold a Formula One race in Baku this summer remain on track.
Sports and Youth Minister Azad Rahimov, however, dismissed the criticism about using the Olympic Stadium as a wedding venue, saying that such rentals are international practice. “It is just a way to make money,” Rahimov said, 1news.az reported. He proposed also holding weddings at a new, indoor shooting range in Baku.
Stadium spokesperson Jamilya Mehtiyeva told Sputnik that the stadium can be used not just for weddings, but also for functions like corporate parties, conferences and team-building.
Rates for a wedding rental have not been announced, but reportedly will depend on the hosts’ needs. Local sports clubs, though, are saying that the Olympic Stadium is too expensive. They’re choosing more modest alternatives for their gatherings.
Some Bakuvians suggested online that if the stadium needs to make an extra buck, what it should really do is to host funerals. In the Caucasus, especially Azerbaijan, those tend to be even more extravagant than a wedding.