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Azerbaijan says 2024 Olympic bid possible

Azerbaijan says 2024 Olympic bid possible after hosting European Games, but wants reforms

Azerbaijan says 2024 Olympic bid possible

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) -- Azerbaijan could bid for the 2024 Olympics after hosting this month's European Games but wants IOC requirements on the host nation to be reduced, the country's sports minister said Tuesday.

The 20-sport European Games are the first major games to take place in the oil-rich ex-Soviet nation of Azerbaijan, and European Olympic Committees head Patrick Hickey has said they could be a springboard for an Olympic bid.

The Azeri capital of Baku bid for the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, but failed to make the short list of finalists.

Sports Minister Azad Rahimov said a 2024 bid would face major obstacles.

"At the moment, the requirements for the Olympics are very high," he told reporters, adding that it would be "impossible" for Azerbaijan to hold the Olympics using its European Games venues without "huge investment of the government for the preparation for the games."

At issue are the International Olympic Committee's minimum requirements for infrastructure and venue size, including for Azerbaijan's main stadium in Baku.

"The stadium is just 68,000 seats but the requirements of the Olympic committee is 80,000 seats for the opening and closing ceremonies, which is again huge," Rahimov said. "At the moment, we know that the (Bird's) Nest, the big stadium which was built for the stadium in Beijing, is still standing without any big events and without competition and going a bit ruined and so on."

Rahimov also criticized requirements for swimming venues that were typically "very huge and without any legacy."

The IOC adopted a reform package last year entitled "Olympic Agenda 2020," which aims in part to cut the costs for hosting the Olympics and maximum use of existing venues. The IOC also instituted a new "invitation phase" for potential bid cities to discuss their plans and vision with IOC officials.

Rahimov said it was not yet clear what the IOC reforms would mean in practice.

"If these demands and requirements will be, let's say, somehow finalized in a more realistic approach, it will be more easy for such a country as Azerbaijan to bid for the games," he said.

Baku received poor ratings on infrastructure during IOC inspections for the 2016 and 2020 bids. However, both inspections were conducted before the major building program for the European Games.

Rahimov said Azerbaijan would also take into account the Olympic movement's reaction to the European Games before deciding on an Olympic bid.

A final decision will rest with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who also heads the national Olympic committee, Rahimov said.

The deadline of submission of bids to the IOC is Sept. 15. Paris, Rome, Boston and Hamburg have all declared their candidacies, and Budapest is another likely contender.