Few days ago, the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games ended. A total of 2,800 athletes from more than 50 Islamic countries[i], including apart from Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Yemen came together from 12 to 22 May 2017 to represent their nations over 10 days of competition across 20 different sports. They included 24 disciplines (Athletics and Para Athletics, Aquatics: Diving, Aquatics: Swimming, Aquatics: Water Polo, Basketball 3×3, Boxing, Football, Gymnastics: Artistic, Gymnastics: Rhythmic, Handball, Judo and Blind Judo, Karate, Shooting, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Tennis, Volleyball, Weightlifting, Wrestling: Greco-Roman, Wrestling: Freestyle, Wushu and Zurkhaneh) in 16 state-of-the-art competition venues across Baku[ii].
Athletes contested 1,585 medals in 269 medal events. Azerbaijan topped the medal table of the Games with 161 medals, including 75 golds, 50 silvers and 36 bronzes[iii]. As Vice President of the Azerbaijan National Olympic Committee, Chingiz Huseynzade said, over 70 percent of Azerbaijani athletes, who participated in the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku, won medals[iv], and this is an exceptional success at Azerbaijani sport history. Turkey finished second with 194 medals and Iran ranked third with 97 medals. Uzbekistan and Bahrain finished fourth and fifth with 63 and 21 medals respectively.
Commenting the organization of the Games, Prince Abdullah Bin Mosaad Bin Abdulaziz, President of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, said that Baku has provided the perfect setting for the athletes of our nations to shine, and for people from four continents to celebrate our shared bonds in a spirit of unity and understanding[v].
First Vice-President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Chair of the Baku 2017 Organizing Committee Mehriban Aliyeva in her speech noted that “over the past 10 days, athletes from across the Islamic world came together in an inspirational celebration of sport, friendship and unity”[vi].
Indeed, the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games had a special meaning for Azerbaijan. At the meeting with the Azerbaijani athletes, who won the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, their coaches, and representatives of Azerbaijan`s sports community, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev underlined this meaning[vii].
He said: “On the eve of the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games I said that our main goal is to ensure that athletes, guests representing Muslim countries come together in Baku, get to know each other, shake hands and strengthen friendship, cooperation.” “And we achieved this. We saw this at the Games. On some occasions, representatives of countries that are not so close from a political point of view were congratulating each other, were happy for each other`s success, and were shaking each other`s hands”. So, as he said, Azerbaijan`s policy with respect to the Muslim world aims to strengthen unity, solidarity, and to end some confrontations, wars among Muslim countries. So, that is a political implication of the organization of this event[viii].
By these games, Azerbaijan has also demonstrated a new approach and set new standards in the Islamic Solidarity Games- a sign of respect for our guests, and the manifestation of responsibility. As President Aliyev said, “at the same time, this is, generally, indicative of our policy because we want Azerbaijan to excellently host every event. Therefore, our country is being developed, and therefore all foreign visitors who arrive in Baku are impressed by the beauty of the city”[ix].
The head of state mentioned also Azerbaijan’s role at the International level: “Today, Azerbaijan is known as a developing, modern, and powerful state not only in the Islamic world, but across the world and our athletes’ victories further enhance our strength. So, all these facts more obviously demonstrate that Azerbaijan is among the powerful states”[x].
Azerbaijan showed also progressiveness of Islam at the Opening Ceremony of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games. As President Aliyev accentuated, Azerbaijan showed that Islam is a religion of science, culture, peace, and mercy. “We showed off talented Azerbaijanis at the Opening Ceremony. We showed off Azerbaijan’s rich, ancient history and culture to the Islamic and the whole world,” said President Ilham Aliyev. “At the same time, the Closing Ceremony showed Azerbaijan as a progressive, modern country. So, this unique mix today makes Azerbaijan an irreplaceable country at a global level. We are loyal to our national, religious values. We preserve them and will preserve them.” He concluded that: Azerbaijan is open to the world: “we are modern, and we are developing. These key factors characterize the modern Azerbaijani state today. We are building a modern state on deep national and cultural roots”[xi].
So, one more time, Azerbaijan, by using its “soft power” demonstrated how powerful and how rich it is not only among Muslim countries, but also at International level. So, we can repeat proudly that we are Azerbaijanis!
Dr. Turab GURBANOV