European Games: First edition opens in Azerbaijan

Fireworks at the opening ceremony of the first European Games Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption One official called the event a "landmark moment"

The first European Games has opened in Azerbaijan's capital Baku with a lavish ceremony starring a giant pomegranate and US pop star Lady Gaga.

Over 6,000 athletes are competing in the multi-sport competition.

Patrick Hickey, who heads the European Olympic Committees (EOC), called it a "landmark moment".

But the EOC's decision to award the games to Azerbaijan, the only bidder, has been criticised over the country's human rights record.

Many government critics are in jail, while international human rights officials and some media have been prevented from entering the country.

European Games

12 - 28 June 2015

253

medal events over 17 days

50

countries taking part

  • 18 competition venues

  • 6 temporary arenas

  • 7,351 beds in the Athletes Village

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A giant pomegranate starred, representing abundance and love
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Dancers formed the huge Azeri flag

Baku has rejected allegations of abuses, and accused Western governments of trying to politicise the event.

Mr Hickey did not mention human rights, but spoke of how "sport has a unique power to effect positive change''.

Politics were mostly absent from the ceremony, apart from boos for the delegation from Armenia, a regional rival of Azerbaijan.

Among the highlights of a show celebrating Azeri culture were a giant bull representing the Greek god Zeus, dancers forming a vast Azeri flag and a huge pomegranate bursting with floating seeds.

Lady Gaga put in a surprise appearance, performing John Lennon's song Imagine behind a piano draped in flowers.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A ring-shaped giant cauldron was sparked during the ceremony
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lady Gaga said she was "honoured" to play at the event

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, who has held power since taking over from his father in 2003, opened the games, entering the stadium in Baku holding a flaming torch.

He was joined by several other heads of state, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The ceremony also saw the first appearance of Kosovo behind their own flag at a major event, one of 50 European nations competing until 28 June.

The EOC hopes the games will develop into a key event in the sporting calendar, similar to the Asia Games.

But while many events feature elite competitors, big names are staying away from the marquee athletics and swimming competitions.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Dancing featured heavily in the ceremony celebrating Azeri culture
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption As did a white bull representing the Greek god, Zeus

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