08 October 2022
We present to our readers the interview of Vice-President of Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation (AGF) - Altay Hasanov. The interview is dedicated to the 20th Anniversary of AGF’s reestablishment.
- October 7 marked the 20th Anniversary of re-establishment of Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation. Within these 20 years, AGF has made a very difficult and responsible way. When you embarked on this path, did you expect that Gymnastics would become favorite and popular sports discipline in the country?
- In 2002, the Federation was re-established with the election of First Vice-President of our country Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva as AGF President. We can say that we started from zero point. During the Soviet period, there were Rhythmic Gymnastics, Artistic Gymnastics, Acrobatic Gymnastics and Tumbling in our country. But we needed to overcome a long distance in order to prove ourselves on the international arena. Yes, the revival of Gymnastics, after gaining of independence by the country, began in 2002 - when the Federation was reestablished. Of course, at the beginning of the journey, we have already set ourselves certain goals. We knew that we would have certain difficulties as we move forward. We were realistic in our assessment of the situation and felt a great responsibility. As a result, today, 9 gymnastics disciplines are being developed in our country. We host many international competitions at high level. Our athletes achieve success on the international arena, and representatives of our Federation are elected to international organizations. In fact, we have come a long way within these 20 years, and today, we celebrate our 20th Anniversary, as the Federation with great experience.
- From time to time, foreign athletes were included into the National Teams in Gymnastics disciplines. What impact does the successful performance of the “stars” within the National Team have on the training process of our athletes?
- Today, no one can be surprised with the performance of foreign athletes either at football clubs, or within the National Teams in various sports disciplines. Yes, at the initial stage of development of any sports discipline, cooperation with foreign athletes enables you to gain experience in participation at the international competitions. Afterwards, you can use this experience for the training and preparation of national athletes. In 2002-2003, when the development of gymnastics in Azerbaijan had just begun, our country was represented by foreign athletes at the competitions. Now, our national gymnast - Zohra Aghamirova - represented our country in the individual program at the Rhythmic Gymnastics competitions of the Tokyo-2020 Olympic Games. Today, representatives of Baku Rhythmic Gymnastics school are the prize-winners of the European Championships. On the threshold of the 1st European Games, held in our country in 2015, when the development of Women’s Artistic Gymnastics & Trampoline Gymnastics had just commenced in Azerbaijan, our country was also represented by foreign athletes. Today, our gymnasts in Trampoline Gymnastics win medals at the major international competitions. Our athlete - Seljan Mahsudova won the Silver medal at the Trampoline Gymnastics World Cup held in Baku in 2022. Our gymnasts won 2 Gold medals at the 2022 European Championships among juniors in the same Gymnastics discipline. For the first time in history of Azerbaijani Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, our representative - Nazanin Teymurova - qualified for the junior final competitions of the XVI European Youth Olympic Festival held in Banská Bystrica (Slovakia). Moreover, our athlete also performed in the final of this year’s European Championships (Munich, Germany) among juniors for the first time in history of the country’s Women’s Artistic Gymnastics. Cooperation with foreign athletes is a very good tool of development of national sports school based on international experience. This method should just be applied in an efficient and correct way.
- 20 years ago, AGF began to develop, let's say, only 3 Gymnastics disciplines (Rhythmic Gymnastics, Men’s Artistic Gymnastics, Acrobatic Gymnastics & Tumbling, which is one of Trampoline Gymnastics discipline). Currently, 9 disciplines are being developed. What do you think is the secret of the achieved success?
- Yes, as I have already mentioned, today, 9 gymnastics disciplines are being developed in our country. 4 of them are Olympic disciplines (Rhythmic Gymnastics, Men’s & Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, Trampoline Gymnastics), 4 - non-Olympic (Acrobatic Gymnastics, Aerobic Gymnastics, Parkour & “TeamGym”), and one non-competitive discipline - Gymnastics for All. Eight gymnastics disciplines belong to the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), while “TeamGym” is a unique discipline belonging only to the European Gymnastics. Thus, we are developing all Gymnastics disciplines included into the activity of both organizations.
Our current success has been achieved thanks to a strong strategy, right decisions timely made under the leadership of President of Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation – Mrs. Mehriban Aliyeva. Another secret of our success must be openness to innovation. As you know, nowadays, development is going at a very fast pace. There are a lot of new introductions in the presentation of sports as well. It should be mentioned that up-to-date technologies have a great impact on sports at present. We are open and eager to use all these technologies by following innovative ideas. The future belongs to our young generation. Therefore, we always involve the youth in our activities. I think all this allows us to formulate our anniversary icon like “20 Years of Progress”.
- Years ago, many people in Azerbaijan were interested in having their children go in for combat sports. Currently, parents willingly enroll both boys & girls to gymnastics sections. This shows that the federation is achieving one of its goals – mass involvement in Gymnastics.
- We all know that Gymnastics in Azerbaijan is not a traditional sport. One of our main goals for 20 years has been to create this tradition in our country, to increase an interest of the population in this discipline. The success of our gymnasts on the international arena played a big role in popularization of Gymnastics. Since 2004 (Athens-2004), our gymnasts participate in the Rhythmic Gymnastics competitions within the framework of the Olympic Games. Since 2012 (London-2012), representatives of Men’s Artistic Gymnastics joined them. In 2020 (Tokyo 2020), together with them, our country was represented in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics for the first time. Our athletes won medals in Olympic (Rhythmic Gymnastics, Men’s & Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, Trampoline Gymnastics) and non-Olympic gymnastics disciplines (Acrobatic Gymnastics & Aerobic Gymnastics) at the World & European Championships, World & European Age Group competitions, World & European Games, Summer Universiade, World Cups & other international competitions. Parkour & “TeamGym” are completely new disciplines for us.
World-class international events, taking place in our country, also contribute to the growth of interest in Gymnastics. In 2002-2016, there were mainly held Rhythmic Gymnastics competitions in Azerbaijan. The World Cup series in 4 Olympic Gymnastics disciplines are annually held in Baku starting from 2016. Along with Rhythmic Gymnastics, there were organized the European & World Championships, the World Age Group competitions in Trampoline Gymnastics, Acrobatic Gymnastics and Aerobic Gymnastics as well.
Gymnastics distinguishes from all other sports disciplines as it has Gymnastics for All. There are no age restrictions, no special physical skills are required. This gymnastics discipline is very popular in European countries. Thousands of people take part in the international events in this discipline. These events, with the participation of active spectators, turn into a real Gymnastics festival.
As you know, development of different sports disciplines, including Gymnastics, promotion of healthy life style among population, increase of mass involvement in sports are currently in the spotlight of President of Azerbaijan, President of the National Olympic Committee - Mr. Ilham Aliyev. I think that development of Gymnastics for All along with other disciplines can significantly contribute to the increase of mass involvement.
- In history of independent Azerbaijan, Gymnastics is the only sport discipline where we are represented within a team at the competitions held within the framework of the Olympic Games. Our team in Group exercises competed at the Olympic Games Tokyo-2020. Naturally, the next goal would probably be qualification for the Paris-2024 Summer Olympics.
- Yes, at present, representatives of Rhythmic Gymnastics achieve success at Team competitions in Azerbaijan among the Olympic sports disciplines. It was a great excitement for all of us when our National Team in Group exercises qualified for the Tokyo-2020 Olympics within the home walls - “Milli Gimnastika Arenasi” (National Gymnastics Arena). According to the results of the All-Around competitions, they managed to find themselves within the top 5 teams qualified for the Olympic Games at the World Championships (Baku / 2019). In 2022, our Team in Group exercises won the “Gold” at the World Cup in Baku. The Group returned with 3 “Bronzes” from the European Championships (Israel), with 2 “Golds” & 1 “Silver” from the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games (Turkey). Our representatives achieved the greatest success at the World Championships taken place in the capital city of Bulgaria (Sofia) last September. The Bronze medal of our Team in Group exercises was the first medal in history of Azerbaijani Gymnastics won by the Team at the Worlds.
Naturally, our next goal would be the qualification for the Paris-2024 Olympic Games. Gymnasts will compete for a license at the 2023 World Championships. We can say that our team is young. I hope that we will have success at Team competitions in other sports disciplines as well. The success of our Rhythmic gymnasts shows that this is possible. In general, teamwork has a great power. A team, where young people are involved, is even stronger. This concerns not only the Field of Play, but also the organization of competitions.
- In your opinion, what are the most important factors in sports development - talented athletes, persistence, motivation or finances?
- All of them is of great significance. It is very important to have a team of people sharing the same ideas. Our goal should not be restricted with winning medals at major competitions. We should have a clear view of what should be achieved at first stage, and what at the second one. Of course, funding is also essential. Athletes need equipped gyms, highly qualified coaches, choreographers, doctors, masseurs. But the main role is, of course, played by athletes. Behind each success, there are hours of hard training & perseverance. The road to the podium is complicated.
- Perhaps my next question will sound very simple. What about the risk of injury in Gymnastics? Many people know the tragedy of Elena Mukhina and other athletes.
- Unfortunately, there is always a risk of injury in sports. It's not just in Gymnastics. There is a risk of injury in all sports. Reasons for serious injuries in sports are different. Sometimes an athlete makes a mistake or a coach misses something. Sometimes they fail in correct evaluation of their strength and decide to execute a dangerous element. And, sometimes, it just happens by accident. I think many people remember when an athlete was in danger of falling off the Trampoline and our volunteer quickly reacted during the Trampoline Gymnastics competitions of the 1st European Games. In order to prevent the risk of injury, in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, it is forbidden to perform certain elements of high danger. Of course, no one is ensured from accidents, but safety measures should be ignored.
- Is it possible to do gymnastics in Azerbaijan for yourself, i.e. not with a purpose of participation in the international competitions?
- Of course, it is possible. We pay great attention to mass involvement in sports. If someone is engaged in sports, there is no guarantee that he/she would continue his/her career in a professional way. Some of them just do not achieve outstanding success due to lack of physical skills or athletic qualities, others simply do not wish to dedicate their lives to sports. But it is useful for everyone to learn to control his/her body at an early age and to acquire gymnastic skills.
There are Gymnastics for All sections operating in our country. A person, regardless of age and physical skills, can engage in this Gymnastics discipline. Last year, a group of our fans in this discipline participated in the Golden Age Gym Festival. When we say “Golden Age”, we mean people aged 50 and older. They presented their program at the international festival. So, there is an opportunity to do gymnastics not only for children, but for everyone.
- Within these 20 years, AGF has distinguished itself among the National Gymnastics Federations by its activity on the international arena. AGF was included into the list of 10 meritorious National Federations by the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) for 6 years in a row, and ranked 1st for 3 out of 6 years. What are the goals for the near future?
- Naturally, as a result of properly organized work by the leadership of our federation, we have reached this level by continuous development within 20 years. Apart of success already mentioned, “Milli Gimnastika Arenasi”, which was put into operation in 2014, paved the way for a new stage of Gymnastics development. This new stage was also supported by the organization of the 1st European Games in Azerbaijan, inclusion of 6 Gymnastics disciplines into its program. Both our athletes and representatives of the Federation gained recognition on the international arena. Our specialists take up responsible posts within European Gymnastics (Farid Gaibov - President of the European Gymnastics) and International Gymnastics Federation (Natalya Bulanova - member of the FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics Technical Committee; Siyana Vasileva – FIG Athletes’ Representative in Rhythmic Gymnastics). Our coaches & choreographers are invited to conduct master classes in different countries. Our judges are invited to judge the competitions of the World and European Championships, other large-scale competitions by the European Gymnastics and FIG. As a result, we are among the distinguished federations. Our goals for the future are to retain what has been achieved, to keep up the current pace in development of Gymnastics, to be open to innovations, and strive for further development of this discipline in our country.
- In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world. What difficulties and problems did Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation encounter? How far did you succeed to overcome them?
- The COVID-19 pandemic forced people to postpone a number of events and projects. Many competitions have been canceled or rescheduled. Even the Tokyo-2020 Olympic Games took place a year later. The gyms were closed. The training procedure was suddenly disrupted. The same situation was all over the world. Beginners in sports were able to complete the basic elements with the help of online training, although this was also difficult. However, it was even more difficult for experienced athletes. When outdoor training was allowed, the athletes of our National Teams in Gymnastics discipline resumed their trainings in the park of “Milli Gimnastika Arenasi”. Our athletes, who were preparing for the Olympic Games & European Championships were training at “Milli Gimnastika Arenasi” in isolation according to the quarantine rules within a certain period of time.
The impact of the pandemic will probably be felt within the next few post-pandemic years. Children usually start to be engaged in Gymnastics at the age of 4-5. If the sports infrastructure was not functioning about 2 years, this means that the children did not enroll to Gymnastics sections. Perhaps, from this point of view, we will still have “gaps” at the competitions among pre-juniors. As you know, the coronavirus swept the whole world. I would also like to mention that our federation posted Gymnastics for All video lessons on its social media accounts to help people to stay fit even during the isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s gratifying that the world slowly returns to normal way of life. I hope we left it all behind.
- At present, gymnastics sections are operating in various regions of our Republic. Are you content with the interest shown in Gymnastics in the regions - outside of Baku?
- At the moment, there are 26 Gymnastics sections operating in the regions of Azerbaijan. As you know, Rhythmic Gymnastics is more popular in our country. But we wish other Gymnastics disciplines to be equally developed in the regions as well. One of our goals is to make Gymnastics popular among boys as well. Children in the regions, growing up in the midst of beautiful nature, are stronger. It will be good if these boys do artistic Gymnastics which requires strength. Some people think that no strength is needed in Gymnastics. But this is not the case. Great strength is required to show your skills on various gymnastics Apparatus. This Gymnastics discipline helps to form good physique in young men. I hope that we will achieve more progress in other Gymnastics disciplines within the years to come.
- We talked about foreign athletes. What about specialists? Are you content with a number of national specialists today?
- We have enough national staff - both athletes and coaches. As I already mentioned, now, the representatives of the Azerbaijani Gymnastics school successfully replace the foreign athletes which used to perform for our country at the international events. There are even athletes from the regions among them. At the last Tokyo-2020 Olympic Games, the National Team of Egypt was led by our national coach. It proves the experience of our national coaching school. At present, our national specialists are working in Baku and in the regions of Azerbaijan as well. We have come out to the new stage of development of Gymnastics disciplines in the regions. For now, gymnasts from Baku travel to the regions as coaches. But in the future, there will be national coaching staff in the regions of Azerbaijan. The precedents already exist. I think that the picture will significantly change soon. We have a good staff potential in Rhythmic Gymnastics. There is an experience that we can apply to other Gymnastics disciplines. The establishment of a national school takes more time and effort than the training of a single athlete.
- There are Gymnastics elements used as a basis in all sports - from football to wrestling. A person who is doing Gymnastics can achieve success in any sport in future. AGF’s motto is: “Sport begins with gymnastics”. We would like to know your opinion about it.
- We have been using this motto for many years. Both national and international experts agree with this idea. Thus, every sport has warm-up exercises. Gymnastics elements are used during the warm-up and training process. There is no such an athlete who would not use the basic elements of Gymnastics. All this, once again, proves that sport begins with gymnastics.
Our federation, celebrating its 20 years of progress this year, has united various sports disciplines in Azerbaijan with its motto “Sport begins with gymnastics”. The role of sports federations in increasing a number of young and healthy people and promotion of mass involvement in sports is great.
I wish young people growing up in Azerbaijani families to go in for sports, be healthy both physically and morally.