(ATR) In the first controversy of the European Games, Armenia’s small delegation was loudly booed during the
athletes ceremony at the opening ceremony.
Sections of the 68,000-capacity crowd gave the small group of athletes and officials a hot reception, raising their flags and chanting “Azerbaijan” as the Armenians walked by.
There were only six people in the parade and, from the press tribune, none of them appeared to be athletes, only officials.
Armenia has 25 athletes at Baku Games. The country, involved in a long-running bitter dispute with Azerbaijan, will be represented in the sports of boxing, judo, sambo, shooting, taekwondo and wrestling.
Armenia did not vote in the European Olympic Committees ballot to award the Games to Baku in December 2012.
A decades-long conflict over the dispute region of Nagorny Karabakh had jeopardized Armenia’s participation in the 20-sport event for 6,000 athletes. Deadly incidents in the war zone over the past year prompted fears of a boycott.
In March, Armenia announced it was sending athletes to the Games after a concerted effort by the IOC and European Olympic Committees the country’s sports movement over a series of months.
The athletes from Kosovo, the 50th member of EOC, were grinning with pride as they walked around the venue. It was a big moment for the country, which was only recognized by the IOC last year. Next stop is Rio 2016, the country’s first Olympics.
Lady Gaga performs in Baku. (ATR)
The sizeable Turkish group of athletes and officials had spectators standing all around the stadium shouting "Turkiye."
Naturally, the crowd went crazy for the last country to enter the stadium. The music ramped up, spectators clapped and cheered and waved lighters to welcome their own into Azerbaijan’s national stadium.
IOC president Thomas Bach and Russian president Vladimir Putin, Azeri president Ikham Aliyev and EOC president Pat Hickey were the top dignitaries at the opening ceremony.
Bach’s predecessor Jacques Rogge was also in attendance.
Global megastar Lady Gaga was the surprise package at a fireworks-embellished opening ceremony big on large costumes, rich in stagecraft about Azerbaijani’s rich history and culture and special effects. She sang a rendition to John Lennon’s “Imagine” to an adoring crowd.
The First Lady of Azerbaijan and EOC chief Hickey gave speeches before the president Aliyev officially opened the
first-ever European Games.
Playing to the crowd, she thanked all Azerbaijanis for their support in bringing the Games to Baku, saying the staging of Baku 2015 was a victory for the nation’s people. She said a new chapter was being written in the history of European Olympic movement.
"It is being written by Azerbaijan,” she added.
Hickey described the opening ceremony launching the first European Games a "landmark moment" in European sport.
“This is the proudest moment in the history of the European Olympic Committees,” he told spectators.
He said the Games were “a bold dream, a burning ambition for the EOC."
"We add the missing fifth ring to the continental games of the world,” Hickey added.
“We bind the five continents of the Olympic Movement more closely together.”
Without a trace of a reference to the furor over Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record and clampdown on government critics in the run-up to the competition, Hickey insisted: “Sport has the unique power to effect positive change, global ethics, fair play, respect and friendship.”
These values are likely to be put to the test at various junctures of the 17 days of competition, notably when Armenia come up against Azerbaijan.
Written by Mark
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