Armenia Confirms Participation at Baku 2015; Hickey Delighted

(ATR) Despite a bitter dispute with Azerbaijan, Armenia announces it will send athletes to European Games. Mark Bisson reports.

(ATR) Despite a bitter dispute with Azerbaijan, Armenia has confirmed its participation in the European Games.

Armenian NOC secretary general Grachia Rostomyan told a press conference Wednesday that the country will send athletes to Baku 2015. The decision came at a meeting of the NOC’s executive committee on Tuesday.

Armenia will be represented in the sports of boxing, judo, sambo, shooting, taekwondo and wrestling.

A decades-long conflict over the dispute region of Nagorny Karabakh had jeopardized Armenia’s participation in the June 12 to 28 Games. Deadly incidents in the war zone over the past year prompted fears of a boycott.

"It is entirely up to the country's NOC to make a final decision on the matter," Rostomyan was quoted by the AFP news agency.

But the decision has not gone down well with some of Armenia’s sports federations who are against sending their athletes to Baku.

"They will never get a fair deal for their performances in Azerbaijan," Greek-Roman wrestling team coach Levon Julfalakyan said, according to AFP.

National gymnastics boss Albert Azaryan echoed the sentiment: "Regardless of our athletes' performances they will never be given a chance to win in Baku by any means."

The IOC and European Olympic Committees have held negotiations with the Armenian sports movement in recent months. In October 2014, EOC president Pat Hickey travelled to Armenia with IOC chief Thomas Bach to discuss the country’s participation in the Games with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

Hickey welcomed Armenia’s decision to take part in the inaugural European Games.

"From the start I have very been confident that this would be the end outcome as Armenia is a passionate sports country and an important member of the European Olympic family," Hickey said. "The presence of their athletes at Baku 2015 will certainly contribute to the success of the inaugural European Games."

Games organisers have reportedly offered security guarantees to the Armenian NOC to safeguard the welfare of athletes and officials at Baku 2015.

Armenian NOC president Gagik Tsarukyan said he was "very pleased" to confirm the country’s participation in Europe’s first major multisports event.

"We know that Armenian athletes will have the best possible facilities and support available to them at Baku 2015, helping them reach their peak performance this summer," he said in a statement.

"My executive Board took this decision based on sporting reasons alone; it is important to keep sport independent from politics.

"We have already started organising our team for the Games. We will make further announcements about our preparations in due course. But I can say now that this was the best decision for the future of sport in our country."

The EOC’s 50 member nations will take part in the 20-sport Games program over 17 days of competition. Twelve sports are Rio 2016 qualifiers.

Reported by Mark Bisson

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