Azerbaijan, that is 9 millions people, 14 000 Karate licencees, 8 300 rivers, 250 lakes and… the unique Rafael Aghayev. Since last October, the artist has become the only Karateka to have been crowned 5 times World champion in individual divisions (-70 kg in 2006 and 2008, Open in 2008, -75 kg in 2010 and 2016).
In his wake, Azerbaijan Karate came out. 26 years after its independance, two decades after integrating the WKF (World Karate Federation), Azerbaijan has built a brilliant Karate school.
Besides Rafael Aghayev, who is also 10 times European champion (!), the armada stays the course, in the male categories (2014 European champions in Kumite) as in the female ones (2016 European champions in Kumite).
Aykhan Mamayev (World runner-up and 2 times European medallist in -84 kg), Niyazi Aliyev (2015 European champion in 67 kg), Shahin Atamov, Firzovski Farzaliyev, Irina Zaretska, and not to mention Roman Heydarov in Kata (3rd at the 2016 and 2017 European championships), are on their way to the 2020 Olympics.
A brilliant success for the « Land of Fire » (natural flames arise from the ground due to the underground gas), which stretches from the mountains of Great Caucase to the beaches of the Caspian sea.
« Rafael (Aghayev) has an impact all around the world »
Yashar Bashirov, the president of the Karate Azerbaijan Federation, enlightens us about this team that wasn’t very successful in the European championships last May, which is normal, considering that the forces were concentrated on the Islamic Games held a week after in… Bakou.
Once more, the Azerbaijan fighters shined out. With 10 medals won out of 11 possible, including 4 golds (Aliyeva, Zaretska, Aghayev, Mamayev), they ultra-dominated the tournament despite the presence of Iran, Turkey and Egypt.
What is the impact of Rafael Aghayev on Azerbaijan Karate ?
(He laughs) Rafael has an impact not only in Azerbaijan but all around the world. Azerbaijan Karate people are proud to meet Rafael everyday but, in the world, they cannot besides seminar. Everybody is proud to have contact with him daily. He is only one to be 5 times World champion. Rafael and Mamayev also participated twice at the World Games. That’s a pride for us.
« The European Games really supported Karate for Olympics »
Has the fact that Karate become Olympic changed something in Azerbaijan ?
We have been supported for a long time by the National Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Our president who is, meanwhile, the president of the Olympic Committee, M. Ilham Aliyev, personnaly supports Karate. The 1st vice-president of the governement, the 1st lady of Azerbaijan, Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva, also supports the development of Karate.
We should notice that we are registered in the WKF for only 20 years. Only 14 000 people practice Karate in Azerbaijan.
Our results are obvious for everybody through Rafael, who is the World n°1, but also thanks to our other European medallists. Thanks to these results, the EKF believes in my work. I was choosen as a member of the executive committee.
Your country hosted, in 2015, the 1st European Games. Thomas Bach, the IOC president, came to visit the Karate competition there. What was its importance, according to you, in the Olympic process ?
The European Games really supported Karate for Olympics. In the European Games, WKF showed how the Karate had developed in the world and that it can show up.
- Antonio Espinos, the WKF president, in his speech at the European Games, said that Azerbaijan had very well supported Karate for the Olympic Games.
« Before the Games, the 2019 European Championships will be held in Baku »
And now ?
We are preparing very seriously the « World Series » in order to be qualify for Tokyo. We expect some medals in the Olympic Games, from Rafael, Irina Zaretska, Asiman Gurbanli, and also Shahin Atamov. They have chances to get a medal in the 2020 Olympics. And we should not forget our young athletes who are coming up. But, before the Olympic Games in 2020 in Tokyo, the 2019 European Championships will be held in Baku.
Talking about European Championships, Azerbaijan didn’t shine as usual in the Kocaeli’s ones (May 4th-7th), wiht only 2 bronze medals won. What does the president think about it ?
We came in Kocaeli with our 2nd team. Our main team was preparing itself for the Islamic Games held in Baku (May 12th-14th). If our best athletes were in the European Championships, it would have been possible to get several finals. that’s the reason why we couldn’t arrange to be in the finals.
Shahin Atamov and Roman Heydarov took the bronze. We expected another final with Irina Zaretska with but, unfortunately, she had pain in her back and couldn’t keep going.
In the male team, against Ukraine, we were equal but, unfortunately, the judges gave victory to Ukraine. And we were unlucky with the girls against Slovenia, but that is sport.