Azerbaijan is really moving up the European map. This year, Baku became the song capital of Europe, and, soon, it is going to be the continent’s sports capital, too.
With a vote of 38 to eight (Armenia among the three countries abstaining), the European Olympics Committees last weekend chose the oil-and-gas boomtown to host the debut of the 2015 European Olympic Games, a continental version of the Olympics.
Strangely, Baku was also the only venue-candidate for the Games, but Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, head of the country's Olympics committee, didn't let that dint his joy at the decision.
Terming the Games "truly a historic event," Aliyev underlined to citizens that Azerbaijan's "international authority" had played the largest role in securing the event for Baku.
The event is not just going to earn Azerbaijan a major PR score, but also, potentially, big bucks. The country expects an income from 120 to 130 million euros ($156 million - $169.1 million) from advertisements and sales of broadcasting rights.
Perhaps mindful of Azerbaijan's Eurovision experience, event organizers also want to put on a dazzling show for the opening of the games, but don’t all come at once. Azerbaijan hopes to limit the number of participating athletes to a maximum of 4,200 and, also, perhaps with an eye to freeloaders, wants to cap the number of official guests.
The betting is that, true to its traditions of hospitality, Azerbaijan will be ready, arms opened wide, to welcome any number of guests. But in terms of another regional competition -- that of democratic development, pretty much a sports event in itself -- outside observers say that the country is less prepared than neighbors Georgia and Armenia.
Azerbaijan has shown it has the cash and the ambition to play the big-time in Europe. Perhaps one day, Baku will become the European capital for human rights as well?