Malta Chef de Mission Dion Buhagiar ©MOC

Dion Buhagiar
Chef de Mission Malta

1)   Why has it taken so long for Europe to stage its first continental Games?
The congested sports calendar in Europe, as well as the restraints on the NOCs (National Olympic Committees) and the athletes, is surely one of the main reasons why it has taken the EOC (European Olympic Committees) [so long] to stage their first Games. After so much hard work and commitment from the EOC, we are now happy that solutions have been found with a good number of IFs (International Federations) for the staging of the first European Games in Baku. This, for sure, was a difficult task. Congratulations to EOC President Patrick Hickey, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and President of the NOC of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the First Lady of Azerbaijan and chair of the Baku 2015 European Games Organising Committee Mehriban Aliyev, chair of the EOC Coordination Commission Spyros Capralos, and their teams for their vision and work.

2)   What makes Baku the perfect host city to stage the inaugural European Games?
Baku has fully committed to the Games and is leaving no stone unturned to make these Games a huge success. With the guidance of the experienced members of the EOC, as well as the hiring of top European sports organisation experts, we feel confident that these Games will make everyone proud.

3)   How big do you think your team for Baku 2015 will be and how many sports will you be represented in?
Malta will have a team of around 50 to 60 athletes in athletics, shooting, judo and wrestling. There may be one or two other sports but we are still awaiting qualification.

Dion Buhagiar congratulated EOC President Patrick Hickey, among others, for his vision and work
Dion Buhagiar congratulated EOC President Patrick Hickey, among others, for his vision and work ©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?
This was another great feat for the EOC to achieve. I feel that if all sports afforded the athletes the opportunity to achieve qualifying places for the Olympic Games, then it would make the European Games much more successful and would encourage the best athletes to compete in these Games.

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?
The European Games will give our continent an added and enhanced sporting image, which so far was lacking. Europe needed these Games so as to encourage greater commitment from all sectors towards the staging of big sports events, as well as [to create] a greater incentive for our athletes to go for gold.

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?
The preparations for the Games are well in hand and the venues that we visited were impressive. The Organising Committee are working very hard to ensure the successful delivery of the European Games.

Dion Buhagiar was impressed by the venues for the inaugural European Games, one of which is the Crystal Hall
Dion Buhagiar was impressed by the venues for the inaugural European Games, one of which is the Crystal Hall ©Getty Images

7)   Are there any sports not represented that you would like to see in the European Games?
The sports programme already includes 20 sports, 16 of which are Olympic and four non-Olympic sports. Some of the sports have age or discipline restrictions which in time we hope will be upgraded to be in line with the Olympic programme.

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?
It is very heartening to observe that a young, independent nation has committed to hosting these Games. It shows that its leaders believe in the strength that sports could have to build its international image and obviously, it also means that Azerbaijan is investing in the healthy future of its people.

9)   How interested do you think the public in your country will be in the Games?
The Maltese public are looking forward to these Games and we are sure that they will greatly support our athletes.

10)  What are you looking forward to most at Baku 2015?
The Baku Games will write history. They will show unity in Europe with hopefully all 50 nations taking part in a very friendly, yet highly competitive environment.

Interview by Daniel Etchells