Author: Senan SHAFIZADE
The impact of the global coronavirus pandemic on sports will remain a subject of debate for a long time. Due to COVID-19, most competitions around the world were postponed and even cancelled. Because of the pandemic the European Football Championship, Formula 1, the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo were postponed to the next year.
Azerbaijan had to update the agenda of sport events too due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The training camps of our athletes preparing for the Olympic Games in Tokyo have been postponed. The pandemic also undoubtedly caused some athletes to lose their shape and end their sports careers.
But even during the pandemic, the sports community was constantly at the centre of attention of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which held competitions online, as well as implemented other projects. After permission from the Operational Headquarters for outdoor training, a special plan of measures was developed for the athletes.
Below is our interview with the head of the sports department of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan, the Olympic champion and two-time world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling Farid MANSUROV.
"Farid muallim, what was the impact of the lockdown on Azerbaijani sports?"
"Athletes must be constantly in motion. As a former athlete, I know perfectly well what are the consequences of the lack of constant training and competition. The 2020 crisis due to the coronavirus hit the sports community not only in Azerbaijan but around the world. President of Azerbaijan, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, has repeatedly noted that nation’s health is above all. Our state took necessary steps in a timely manner. Thanks to these efforts of the president, Azerbaijan is trying to get out of the pandemic with the least possible losses. We know well what happened in countries such as Spain, Italy, Germany and Portugal. It was necessary to spend some time in isolation to protect Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis. Due to COVID-19, a number of international competitions have been postponed in Azerbaijan, including the gymnastics championships, the European Karate Championship, the Vugar Hashimov Chess Memorial, and so on. Due to lockdown requirements, athletes had to stay at home for several months. In this situation, the sports community followed the recommendations of the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers. The main thing is health. If we can safeguard our health, our athletes will bring more great victories to Azerbaijan."
"How does the Ministry of Youth and Sports work under quarantine?"
"Our ministry has switched to online. We have implemented a series of projects via the Internet. On behalf of Minister Azad Rahimov, we organised competitions online, as well as made several social videos. Together with AzTV, the ministry implemented a television project "Stay at home, do not remain without sports." As part of the Azerbaijan Olympic Odyssey project, online meetings of young people with famous athletes were organised, short videos about our athletes were made for the Sports Encyclopaedia project. Social education campaigns Maskadan istifadə et (Use the mask) and Sosial məsafə gözlə (Keep social distance) were held jointly with the Azerbaijan Public Association of Sports Volunteers.
“In addition, we supported online competitions in capoeira, karate-do, and football. The pandemic, in fact, contributed to the increase in the number of online chess tournaments. Chess competitions are almost the only ones that have not been interrupted even during the pandemic. Although the scheduled competitions were postponed, chess players competed online. The Azerbaijan Cup and the Silk Road Cup were held jointly with the Azerbaijan Chess Federation. Our chess players held a test match with the Ukrainian national team, and the grandmasters played with the Turkish national team. By the way, now our chess players are taking part in the first online Chess Olympiad.”
"You said that all competitions were held online. Were online competitions given the same amount of time before the quarantine?"
"Of course not. The Internet is an important part of our daily life today. We use emails to exchange information and contact our colleagues from foreign countries. During the pandemic, we had to hold competitions and meetings online."
"Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers allowed outdoor competitions and trainings beginning from August 10. What was the decision of the ministry after the announcement?"
"We created conditions for training of our national teams in various sports. First, we restored the training of judo and karate teams, whose participation in major competitions is expected in the near future. The open-air trainings of national teams in various types of gymnastics have been restored as well. We also created conditions for training of football clubs. As you know, four clubs represent our country in European competitions. They had to restore training as soon as possible. All trainings are conducted in accordance with the recommendations of the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers. Some teams train in the outside Baku where there is no quarantine. All conditions have been created for training karate fighters at the ASK Arena in Baku and the Olympic Sports Complex in Göygöl. Swimmers train in the Kura Olympic Training Sports Centre, taekwondo fighters - in the Absheron Olympic Sports Complex, boxers - in the Gabala Olympic Sports Complex. Necessary conditions have been created for badminton players and fencers in the Sheki Olympic Sports Complex, and the table tennis team - in the Gakh Olympic Sports Complex.
“I think those engaged in individual coaching activities faced the greatest difficulties during the quarantine. Nevertheless, since August 10, they have been provided conditions to conduct training in the open air at sport complexes of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
“I must note that in some countries the athletes face a very big problem, as they cannot find gyms for training even with the softening lockdown rules because there is no proper sports infrastructure in these countries. Nor is it possible to train in other countries, as the borders are closed. But in Azerbaijan, all conditions have been created for our athletes. Thanks to the personal care of President Aliyev, modern sports complexes have been constructed not only in Baku but in every region of the country. Therefore, the Ministry of Youth and Sports did not experience any difficulties in creating conditions for athletes."
"Athletes admit that online training is not that effective..."
"During the lockdown, our main teams took advantage of online training. Trainers gave them necessary instructions and monitored their implementation online. But this training will not replace traditional training. For an athlete, many hours of training in the gym and physical training at home are not the same thing. Not every home has conditions. In addition, one can get injured. The biggest problem I think has to do with weight. The athletes will surely have a weight problem, as they have not visited gyms for quite a long period."
"Do you plan to hold sports competitions in Azerbaijan in 2020?"
"Due to the current situation, changes have been made in the competition calendar. I cannot say anything specific for the moment being. Holding of certain types of competitions in Azerbaijan this year is a big question. First, we have to comply with the recommendations of the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers. Holding mass events is currently prohibited. On the other hand, borders should open. International competitions are possible only after the resumption of international flights."
"The Tokyo Olympic has been postponed to 2021. If the largest competition on the planet does not take place next year, it may be cancelled. Do you think the Olympics will still take place in Tokyo?"
"The biggest goal of any athlete is the participation in the Olympic Games. It is the largest worldwide competition with rich traditions. I believe that the Tokyo Olympics will take place. As a rule, Olympiads unite people - the population of the entire planet. In the aftermath of the pandemic, organising such prestigious competitions will also help to support hopes for the future. I think that Japan will take all the necessary measures to hold these competitions. It's just that some rules in a pandemic will not lose their relevance even after its completion. For example, the obligatory wearing of masks during mass events."
"Thank you for the interview. We hope the pandemic will end soon and our athletes will please us with new victories."
"Thank you. I would advise our athletes to be patient. Worldwide competitions are interrupted. But in order to recover from the pandemic, athletes need to keep training."