Ukraine Chef de Mission Anna SorokinaAnna Sorokina
Chef de Mission, Ukraine

1)     Why has it taken so long for Europe to stage its first continental Games?

In my opinion, Europe was always one of the leading continents, in the beginning of the age after the revival of the Olympic Games, in bringing up, developing and maintaining Olympic ideas and values. The Olympic Games have frequently taken place in Europe, including the first two [Athens 1896 and Paris 1900]. Many of the International Federations' first World Championships also took place in Europe and because the sport movement was so active, maybe it was not the time to get all the sports together in a separate continental Games.

2)     What makes Baku the perfect host city to stage the inaugural European Games?

It's very interesting to discover a new place where you do not necessarily expect to have such a quality or such a standard of event, competition management, infrastructure and so on. Baku is the capital city of Azerbaijan, a very prompt and very fast developing country. We have a lot of expectations about the Games. Baku was one of the candidates to host the [2016 and 2020] Olympic Games.  It would be a good step forward for Europe to maybe host the Olympic Games some time, some day in such new post-Soviet countries to discover that there is self-culture, there is a tradition of sport and also how the Games could be delivered by a country with a new Olympic history and best-practice approach.

3)     How big do you think your team for Baku 2015 will be and how many sports will you be represented in?

Up till now, the qualification process is still in progress and as expected, we would like to take part in all the sports and disciplines at the Games. In some of them, we have already qualified and we have 118 participants confirmed in 14 sports. Usually in the Olympic Games, our team is between 240 and 250 athletes and we're expecting more or less the same number of athletes. The European Games are special for Ukraine. In the last several editions of the Olympic Games, we have had difficulties qualifying in team sports, such as water polo, volleyball, basketball and football. The last participation in a team sport came at Athens [2004] where the Ukrainian women's handball team took a third-place bronze medal. Now, we have already qualified in beach football at the [Baku 2015] Games. That is why it's one step forward for Ukraine. With this new project, we'll get the impulse for team sport development. 

Ukraine won a women's handball bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in a rare team success for the country ©Getty ImagesUkraine won a women's handball bronze medal at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in a rare team success for the country ©Getty Images

4)     How important is it for the success and appeal of the European Games that some sports afford athletes the opportunity to qualify for Olympic Games?

It's a very good opportunity because qualifying for the Olympic Games is getting harder and harder. More countries are starting to cultivate different sports. It's very good and very important to have the possibility of additional competitions to get qualification points, to earn qualification far in advance of the Games and be safe in the preparation for the Games. I think this possibility should attract high-class athletes to take part in the European Games. It's one of the very logical and wise ways to use and promote these Games better.

5)     What is the significance of the Games for the European Olympic Movement and how confident are you that they will become sport's flagship event on the continent?

I think that it's really important. When you launch a new project, it's important to ignore superstitious attitudes. It was the same thing with the Youth Olympic Games [which were first held in Singapore in 2010] because it was a really new project. Nobody knew if the project would receive recognition inside the sport society because it was new and would involve a young age of people. Would it be successful and attract the interest of the media and the public worldwide? It's proved that Olympic projects are always very interesting and improve not only the development of sport, but also affect  the sustainable development and integration of the country and the hosting city. I think the European Games provide the possibility to make this sustainable progress, promote European collaboration and stage true Olympic values through well managed and successful projects in the European community.

6)     How impressed have you been by the facilities to be used for the European Games and the work of the Baku 2015 Organising Committee in ensuring their delivery and readiness?

I was impressed because the facilities have been built using the best techniques with the infrastructure needs for big events in mind. For example, the gymnastics hall [the National Gymnastics Arena], for rhythmic gymnastics and artistic gymnastics, could host even more sports. Baku has combined the construction of new facilities with the reconstruction of old facilities. It's creating a heritage and making old infrastructure work effectively and properly. It's good practice to use such venues, not only for elite sport, but also as host headquarters for the federation and facilities to facilitate a kids' sports school. So, it will have a proper governance and development in the future. It's not built only for this special event. It's good infrastructure for the future development of the sport and the country's standard of living. I like this way of staging the Games. 

Anna Sorokina (right) at the Ukranian team send-off ahead of the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing ©NOC of UkraineAnna Sorokina (right) at the Ukranian team send-off ahead of the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing ©NOC of Ukraine

7)     Are there any sports not represented that you would like to see in the European Games?

I hope very much that we'll participate in all sports and I do not know which other sport I would like to see in the programme of the European Games. I like the possibility for the non-Olympic sports to present their programme and to compete together with Olympians. In this format of the European Games, you can see how the non-Olympic sports can be recognised by the public. What are the rules? What is the difference between similar sports like judo and sambo for example? What's the level of interest in acrobatics and aerobics? It's a good opportunity to nurture new blood and make a new push for the development of Olympic sports as well. They'll be able to see the concurrence on the side of non-Olympic sports or maybe take some of their advanced technology for promotion of their sports. It would also be interesting.

8)     How symbolic is it that the first ever European Games will take place in a country that has experienced a major re-birth of its own since gaining independence in 1991?

We always consider them to be a friendly nation and neighbours. Not meaning direct borders, but in terms of having a former common history. We always consider them to be a friendly nation. It's like being friends and when your friend has got the possibility to present something, and do it in a good way giving a real benefit for its country to produce some heritage, and to do something outstanding for its country development and for the whole European history, we support the project very much. During the last maybe seven or eight years, a lot of World Championships and European Championships have taken place in Azerbaijan, for example in rhythmic gymnastics, judo, wrestling and boxing and everybody was very satisfied with the level of events organised. And to discover a new name, a new city and new possibilities in old Europe - because we are one of the oldest continents which has a very ancient history - and to give a new push and new start to the projects and to the development of certain regions, I think is also a very permanent idea of how to keep an enduring interest in the Olympic movement at a high level.

Anna Sorokina is impressed by the facilities for Baku 2015, including the National Gymnastics Arena ©Getty ImagesAnna Sorokina is impressed by the facilities for Baku 2015, including the National Gymnastics Arena ©Getty Images

9)     How interested do you think the public in your country will be in the Games?

I think it should be very interested. Azerbaijan and ourselves are not so far from each other. We have our own experience like when Ukraine held the European Football Championships in 2012. There were different discussions in the media as to how popular or how much interest there would be. Nobody knew our possibilities and so on, but it was a very positive from the media's perspective and more importantly, it was very positive from the perspective of the general public who visited matches, who met Ukrainians, who experienced Ukrainian level of service and delivery of the Championships. Keeping this in mind, we are very good sports fans and I think the interest in sport and also the chance to discover Azerbaijan in their new stage, makes it a nice possibility to visit a sport event, see the infrastructure and see the country. It's also a way to establish new business relations and contacts, find common interest and see what can be set up between our countries with the delivery of sport events. It's a very nice opportunity. I think the public will visit. I saw the system of delivery of the tickets and it is very democratic, so almost everyone can arrange the tickets through the internet and it is not a complicated procedure. I think this will find an interest in the general public in Ukraine as well.

10)  What are you looking forward to most at Baku 2015?

Of course, we have expectations. We would like to have our sport victories. We would like our athletes to show their best. We would like to see the first European Games successfully delivered and it will give a possibility and opportunity for other countries, and for Ukraine as well, to win the possibility to host such class international event. I think that it is a good possibility to communicate with the whole of Europe with the language of sport and to also maintain Olympic values through multi-sport and multi-nation competitions. It's a good possibility and I think that all the countries, including Ukraine and Azerbaijan, will use it to bring up a new breath to the development of their sport and sustainability as well.

Interview by Daniel Etchells