Azerbaijan is known around the world for its ancient history, culture and traditions. I am proud that it is also increasingly recognised for its commitment to sporting excellence. In recent years, Azerbaijan has successfully hosted some of the most prestigious international sporting events: the 2015 European Games, the 2019 UEFA Europa League final, three F1 Grand Prix races, and next year will host first round and quarter final matches of the 2020 UEFA European Championships.
For any country, hosting the world’s greatest athletes leaves a remarkable legacy. It promotes cities, boosts tourism and leads to increased investment in sport at the community level. Most importantly, through example it inspires individuals of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to take part in the sports they love.
My passion for sport stems from my experiences as president of Gabala FC football club from 2005 to 2019. My colleagues and I transformed a fledgling squad into the first Azerbaijani football team to have success at European level. We worked tirelessly to improve every aspect of the club, developing new infrastructure, professionalising the staff and players, and fostering a new generation of supporters. Part of our vision for the club was also to invest in young talent and boost participation in sport across the board.
The benefits of exercise and improved fitness are powerful and profound. Those of us that exercise regularly, even just twice a week, have improved sleep patterns, higher energy levels and healthy early years development; we are also at a greatly reduced risk of serious illness later in life. Sport strengthens our bodies but also our minds. The mastering of new skills builds confidence, good habits and discipline, and regular exercise is proven to reduce stress and improve mental health. It makes us better leaders, team-players and our clubs, gyms and teams give us opportunities to foster lasting friendships. It should come as no surprise that participation in sport has been linked to academic and professional achievement.
To achieve our vision of sport for all, we established the Gabala FC Academy, a training centre where aspiring professional footballers could train side by side with our coaches and staff to develop their skills, improve their fitness and hone their performances. I’m proud to say that through their hard work in the academy these players have excelled in the sport, with many being called in recent years to join Azerbaijan’s national football team.
The success of Gabala FC Academy was a key factor in the Brazilian footballing legend, Ronaldinho, partnering with us to set up his very first international football academy in Azerbaijan. The Ronaldinho Soccer Academy (RSA) is unique in that it will offer top quality training to players of all abilities. This, we hope, will galvanise young people from all walks of life to follow in the footsteps of one of the greatest football players of his generation. We are look forward to launching the RSA’s facilities in Baku by the start of 2020.