Our Society 13 september — 12:54

Ilgar Rahimov: Money did not detract Azerbaijani heroes of Paralympics (Continuation of conversation with Azeri Daily's guest)

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INTERVIEWED BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV, ELMIR ALIYEV

Paradoxically, before the phenomenal success of the Azerbaijani Paralympic team in Tokyo, foreign giants such as BP and Toyota attached more importance to the development of the sports life of disabled people in Azerbaijan than national entrepreneurship. Of course, the main burden is on the shoulders of the state and the NOC, which is headed by President Ilham Aliyev. But this should not be so, primarily based on the experience of the leading countries of the world. And the head of the Paralympic Committee Ilgar Rahimov agrees with us, and he throws up his hands in bewilderment. Maybe after the triumph in Tokyo, the national business will reconsider its attitude to the development of the Paralympic movement, which by its achievements has burst into the vanguard of world sports...

The successes are left behind. Ahead are the preparations for the Olympics in Paris. Therefore, we began the second part of our conversation with Ilgar Rahimov with problems.

So, President of the Paralympic Committee of Azerbaijan Ilgar Rahimov is our guest.

The first part of the conversation can be found at this link

Ilgar Rahimov

- How are things going with funding? Are there problems, especially during the pandemic?

- Of course, it cannot be without funding problems. But our state has been helping the Paralympic movement for many years, thanks to which we strengthen and develop our activities. The main donors to the movement are the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. We also have sponsors. These are constant partners -- BP and Toyota. The volume of their funding is not so great, but they are true friends. Unibank provided great assistance to our shooters, and the International Bank of Azerbaijan supported all the participants of the Paralympics.

- Given the big plans of the committee, including the development of children's and youth Paralympic sports, how are you going to replenish your financial base?

- I would very much like to see Paralympic sport fall into the field of social responsibility of our businessmen. Unfortunately, before Tokyo, entrepreneurs were reluctant to help us. Except for those companies that I have already named. Hopefully the Tokyo breakout will somehow make a difference.

By the way, in many countries the state helps much less than the private sector. So far we have the opposite. Thank God, President Ilham Aliyev, who is also the President of the National Olympic Committee, has consistently supported the Paralympic movement. Thanks to his patronage, we have government funding. But this is hardly correct -- the state has many other problems. Now liberated lands are being actively restored, infrastructure projects require multimillion-dollar infusions. Why should we hang on the neck of the state? Nobody calls on private companies to give us millions, but if 15-20 entrepreneurs provide even a little help, then in aggregate it will be a normal financial support.

- Are there fundraising marathons for the Paralympic Movement?

- In November 2019, together with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, we organised a very serious event -- the Yenilməzlər (Invincible) talk show. Well-known motivators were invited -- both local and foreign. There were also businessmen in the room. It was hoped that this would affect the growth of social participation of entrepreneurs in the development of the Paralympic movement. Everyone liked the event, but, unfortunately, there is no growth of interest so far. I just dream that someday there will be serious sponsors who will take over the funding of the National Paralympic Committee.

Pay attention, along with the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, representatives of foreign capital are among the main sponsors of the marathon!

- Recently, the head of state signed a decree on awarding the Paralympic prize-winners. This is great, but we have repeatedly witnessed how large prize money did not influence some of our Olympians in the best way. There are probably no such problems in Paralympic sports. Or does someone have to be lowered from heaven to earth?

- I haven't come across this. Paralympians have a different motivation, money does not detract them from their goals. They want to prove that they are full members of this society, that they are the same as everyone else. Perhaps this incentive is even stronger than the one that the Olympians have.

Powerlifter Parvin Mammadov brought first medal to Azerbaijan at Paralympics

- What means do the Paralympians live on? Who gives them their salaries?

- All of them are members of sports societies, which pay them wages. NPC, as a public organisation, does not give money to athletes.

- In today's conversation, we have repeatedly referred to our victory in the Patriotic War. I would like to know if war veterans are involved in the Paralympic movement?

- This is now one of the main directions for us. People who, at the cost of their health, liberated the occupied territories should take a worthy place in our society. Some of these guys have sports skills. Immediately after the war, we began to invite our ghazis (soldiers wounded in action - Ed) to the committee, arranged meetings with Olympic and Paralympic champions. There is no mass appeal to us yet. Veterans are now restoring their health. But I think that for the Paralympics in Paris there will be a certain number of veterans in our team. At least in shooting sports. We really want these guys to find their place in life, and to strengthen the Paralympic team. In the three years left before Paris, we can prepare them well. They raised the flag of Azerbaijan in the liberated territories, why not now raise it in the arenas of Paris?

- By the way, there were no incidents with the Armenian delegation in the Paralympic village?

- The Armenians in Tokyo had only one athlete -- in athletics. We had an incident with the Armenians, but not in Japan -- earlier. Few people know about this. During the war, the NPC, as a member of the country's sports community, joined in appealing to the countries of the world to convey the truth about the conflict in Karabakh. It was signed by 96 of our sports organisations. Armenia has filed a lawsuit against our committee. Allegedly, we violated the ethical norms of the international Paralympic movement. We hired good lawyers and we were in litigation with them for six months. The Armenians wanted us to publicly apologise to them, otherwise they demanded that we be removed from the Paralympic Games. But we managed to prove in the international court that we were right, not they.

- Due to the coronavirus, Rio 2016 Paralympic champion Ramil Gasimov and taekwondo athlete Aynur Mammadova were unable to compete in Tokyo. They were removed from the competition, and the judo team was even quarantined. Did these restrictions hinder our athletes a lot?

- We did not vaccinate athletes before the Paralympics. The coaching staff took into account the risk that the vaccine could negatively affect their well-being and the results would be reduced. So we gave up the vaccine for a while. Aynur Mammadova fell ill in Baku and did not fly to Tokyo. And Ramil Gasimov was infected already in Japan, and this created serious problems for us. Due to the fact that he fell ill, 14 of our athletes went into quarantine -- they had no right to leave their room. This was controlled by a special person. They were taken to trainings and competitions separately from other athletes, were not allowed to enter the general training hall and were kept in a special room. But all this did not break our judokas. Maybe, on the contrary, it made them angry in an amicable way. We have six gold medals in judo! The English commentator who covered the judo competition even joked that he had already memorised the anthem of Azerbaijan. In general, in the Paralympic village, our country was associated with judo. As if the homeland of judo is not Japan, but Azerbaijan!

People with disabilities have a hard time on the streets of Baku

- Azerbaijan entered the top ten countries at the Paralympics. Will we be able to ensure the development of the Paralympic movement, which will correspond to this top ten?

- We are in the top ten due to the activities of the NPC and thanks to our athletes. This is a fantastic result! Look at the countries that follow us. In the Muslim world, we took 1st place, in Europe - 6th.

- A trick question. Where are we approximately in providing living conditions for people with disabilities? Take, for example, Baku streets, along which it is very difficult for disabled people to move independently. Here we are definitely not among the leading countries in the world.

- As a former representative of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, I know that this is a big problem for us. Yes, a lot has been done in recent years, but, unfortunately, we must admit that we are moving very slowly in this direction. In the USSR, people with disabilities were not paid attention to, and we, as a former Soviet republic, inherited this problem. When guests from abroad came to us in Soviet times, they were surprised that there were no disabled people on our streets. And the reason was that the streets were not designed for their movement. However, now we have a slightly different picture...

- But even now we hardly see people with disabilities in the city...

- Yes, there are few of them. But it is already good that at some modern facilities that are being built in our country, the interests of disabled people are taken into account. Alas, not at all of them... The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection has repeatedly raised this issue, but for some reason it is still not resolved. I believe that any projects related to construction should go through the expertise of the Ministry of Labour for the availability of conditions for the movement of people with physical disabilities.

- You worked for the Ministry of Labour for many years. Why did you decide to leave? After all, the position of the NPC president fits very organically into the system of this department?

- I really worked there for a long time. For about 25 years I worked as deputy minister, first deputy minister. During Heydar Aliyev's presidency, I served as acting minister for two and a half years. But there is a limit. I decided that the time had come when I had to take up other activities. I gave all my time and efforts to work in the ministry! One can say oversaturated myself. Now I am focused on my brainchild -- the Paralympic Committee. I created and develop it with my team. And it benefits both me and society.

- That is, you directed all your potential to the work of the NPC.

- Yes. It is one thing to do government work and also be president of the committee, and quite another to be directly at the helm of the NPC. Since 2018, I have completely moved to work in the committee.

- I have no doubt that this is another reason for the success of the Azerbaijani national team in Tokyo.

- Yes, it was another wise decision of our President. He instructed me to work closely with the committee and give results, and I am doing my best to fulfil his instructions. I hope, successfully (smiles).

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