Two years on, Baku goes it alone at Solidarity Games

10 May 2017

The Director of Press Operations for the fourth Islamic Solidarity Games has hailed the "fantastic human legacy" created at the 2015 European Games - also held in Baku - as a largely Azerbaijani-led staff prepares to host another major sports event in the capital.

Jayne Pearce has been organising elite-level sports events for over 30 years, and the most recent lines on her impressive CV include the 2012 Olympic Games and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

When Baku welcomed the inaugural European Games two years ago, she ensured that local staff were hired to work hand-in-hand with more experienced international colleagues.

"I was honoured to be Director of Press Operations in 2015, for a new event, in a country which didn't have great experience in multi-sports major events," she explained.

"The major thing for me was, it served no purpose to just bring in international experts and then leave."

Pearce's solution was to employ established experts as her Venue Media Managers and Venue Photo Supervisors, and to assign to each an Azerbaijani deputy who would have the chance to learn the ins and outs of Press Operations from experienced hands.

"They were mentored and encouraged to take an active role, with the view that next time there was a major event, we wouldn't be needed," Pearce said.

"And so for 2017, all of the Venue Media Managers and Venue Photo Supervisors are Azerbaijani, which is, I think, a fantastic human legacy."
The emergence of a generation of skilled young organisers is good news for Azerbaijan, which has major ambitions for welcoming sports events beyond the upcoming Islamic Solidarity Games which will run from May 12-22.

In 2016, Baku hosted its first Formula 1 race, the European Grand Prix, which has been renamed the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for this year's event in June.

Baku is also one of 13 cities that will stage football matches during the Euro 2020 football tournament.

"We want to show that we can do it by ourselves," said Pirim Pirimov, who as a dual role at Baku 2017 as Venue Media Manager for the imposing Crystal Hall 1 (which will host the volleyball tournament) and Press Services Manager, second only to Head of Press Operations Kamran Talibov.
"We uncovered a real star with Pirim," Pearce enthused. "He was our first Azerbaijani hire, and he is an absolute star. He's got initiative, he's smart, and he cares about his work. He was the junior member of staff in 2015, and now he's number two."

While Pirimov modestly admits that he "didn't know anything" when he came on board at the European Games, he has developed into one of the key members of the Azerbaijani-driven staff - and all at the age of just 23.

Pirimov is just one of around 35 full-time staff working in Press Operations, while a small army of green-shirted volunteers are on hand to welcome media representatives at the various Baku 2017 sites.

"It's so intense," Pearce stressed. "You can't describe it until you go through it. But the important thing is that the skills - good client service, good organisation and systematic planning - are transferable, and can help them in the future."

Naida Damirova was another new face at the 2015 European Games, learning the ropes from the hugely experienced Veronika Muehlhofer at the Baku Shooting Centre. Once again, the apprentice has become the master.

"It was a great pleasure to work with Veronika," said Damirova. "She was very active, very involved in her work, and I learned a lot from her. I realise now how useful that experience was, and I'm sure other departments feel the same!"

Damirova echoes Pirimov's sentiment that it is important for the Azerbaijani organisers to feel they are capable of going it alone. "It's good that we now have very few foreigners," she admitted. "Local staff are engaged, and so far everything is going great."

Pearce may be delighted with her young charges, but they clearly have no intention of resting on their laurels. Pirimov confirmed that adaptability and flexibility are key parts of the job description.

"You have to learn new things all the time," he said. "You need to be responsible, pro-active. You have to communicate with people, establish ties of friendship, know what you're doing and how to approach people. You need to improve all the time."

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