BANGKOK (Reuters) - Baku is facing a race against time to be ready to host next year’s inaugural European Games with thousands of construction workers scrambling around the clock to get all the facilities finished.
Just a quarter of the 16 venues have been completed but organizers are confident everything will be ready before the opening ceremony on June 12, 2015.
Given less than three years to prepare for the Games after the European Olympic Committee awarded the rights to Baku in December 2012, the Azerbaijan capital was always facing a Herculean task.
But with 4,000 people currently working 24 hours a day just on the 68,000-seater new national stadium, organizers say they have no doubts Baku will meet the deadline.
“I’m incredibly confident,” Baku 2015 Chief Operating Officer Simon Clegg said before a presentation on the city’s progress to the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) on Saturday.
“This is not an issue, I have no concerns at all.
“Let’s just say they lay concrete very quickly in Azerbaijan.”
Clegg, formerly the British Olympic Association’s first chief executive, said the former Soviet republic was one of the few countries that had the money and the will to organize a major multi-sports event at short notice but future hosts would be given more time.
Although he would not say which cities had indicated they wanted to stage the 2019 edition, he said the host city would be announced early next year and would not have to spend as much as oil and gas-producing Azerbaijan has.
“We needed a country that had significant resources and also sufficient vision and motivation for hosting these Games, which Europe has never had up until now,” he said.
“So this is the big-bang moment for the European Games.
“The figure has not been made public but what I can tell you is that we’re spending more on these Games than subsequent organizers will need to because of the fact no-one knows about this, so we’re spending a lot more on marketing and promotion of the event that future events will have to.”
Despite the time constraints, Clegg said all the early signs were positive for the European Games.
Organisers had to turn away 14 different sports that wanted to be involved after deciding to put a cap of 20 for the first edition.
They have already signed up six major sponsors and are a close to a deal on a seventh, leaving just one more spot available after deciding to limit the top-level partnerships to eight.
Organisers have also completed most of their television broadcast details, not only in Europe, and are in advanced stages of negotiating with future hosts.
“This is no small undertaking,” Clegg said. “We had to go to the market place to sell commercial sponsorship based upon a concept and promises.
“We have already sold broadcasting deals outside of Europe and this is really important for the future of the European Games.
“To be fair, we’ve had to muscle our way into an already congested sports program... but there have been some very positive discussions.”
Editing by John O'Brien