SPORT HISTORY IN AZERBAIJAN

"In terms of genetic features our nation is a nation comprised
of physically healthy people. Physical health and strength along
with mental health are characteristics of our nation."
H. Aliev

Ancient man developed through the process of natural evolution. Doubtless, in this process an individual's physical strength, speed, reaction and health were always of great importance. Only the individuals with these merits could pass the natural selection process. For a living a man had to fight wild beasts and only his running speed and physical strength could save him from the danger. The situation forced a man to devote special attention to his physical shape. Eventually, people faced a need to test their physical and intellectual abilities. Only the individuals who passed physical trials could be elected to be the leaders of their tribes and kin. Thus, the need for trials of physical abilities was evident. With the development of society, forms and styles of these trials and contests underwent changes. The forms of these contests laid the foundation for one of the greatest achievements of the human culture - the development of sports. As a system of various complex movement contests and training sport underwent the long process of evolution. Trials of people's physical abilities and working skills, various styles of fight and struggle, e.g. wrestling, race, jump, weightlifting, swimming, rowing, archery, sword fencing, javelin throw etc. could be regarded as the first sports. Undoubtedly, these sports were known to every nation. It was impossible to tell where and when the first competitions in a given sport had taken place. On the basis of archeological findings it is possible to assume that the first type of athletic contests was wrestling. The most ancient knowledge of wrestling dates back to the XXVII-XXVI centuries B.C. epics. On the basis of 3rd millennium B.C. Schumer monuments the VIII century B.C. "Gilgamesh" epic provides information about wrestling contests. Wrestling, preserved since ancient times, have been one of traditional sports in Azerbaijan as well. In one of Azerbaijan written monuments, "Kitabi-Dede Qorqud", wrestling was often told of along with other sports. The frequent competitive nature of fights was clearly expressed. In epics and tales heroes would test their strength against lions, bulls, camels and compete against each other in face-to-face contests. Eventually, wrestling underwent development and the attitudes towards it as well as its rules were subject to change with these contests starting to take place in special facilities. In Azerbaijan, an ancient type of sport - wrestling was also held in specialized facilities - arenas.

Heroes of Oghuz nation, including women, were skilled in sword fencing and archery. In this country, young men could not get names without proving their strength and valor in face-to-face fights. "Kitabi-Dede Qorqud" main characters Bamsi Beyrek and Banuchichek fell in love with each other after equestrian, archery and face-to-face contests.

The names of sport games mentioned in "Kitabi-Dede Qorqud" are often met in other sources. In the works of XI century Azerbaijan poet Khagani Shirvani chovgan, equestrian sports and chess as well as other sports are discussed.

Ancient Turkic nations spent much of their life on horseback. On horses Oghuz people would go hunting, obtain food, trade and go to war. On horses they would come to the world, fight, eat and drink, die. On horses this nation was creating history, founding a culture, entertaining and holding various contests. Historians have written much about many games in Huns being based on equestrian sports. Sports like horse races, wrestling-on-horseback, sword fencing, and chovgan were widely spread among Turkic nations. Various sources indicate that the equestrian sports much favored in China were adopted from Turks and Mongols.

The contests of chovgan, a team play formed in the middle of the 1st millennium B.C., were popular in Azerbaijan, Middle Asia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq and neighboring countries for centuries. There is evidence about the first international chovgan competition being held in XII century at one of the cultural centers of the Oriental World - Baghdad, between jockeys from different eastern countries.

Chovgan contests holdings in Azerbaijan are supported by a number of ancient sources. Describing the play of chovken the paintings on a dish found during archeological excavations in Orangala clearly evidence that this game was popular in Beylagan city in the XI century. From genial Nezami's "Khosrov and Shirin" and well as from "Kitabi-Dede Qorqud" it is known that the history of chovgan in Azerbaijan dates back to the VI-VII centuries or even earlier times.

Among the facts supporting the concept of chovgan being an ancient Azerbaijani game are paintings on miniatures, depicting the game, and knowledge regarding its rules presented in various written sources. Like in the case of other games popular in the East, the spread and development of chovgan in distant parts of the world owed much to the British. Thus, the game, adopted by the British from India in the XIX century, spread to and developed in Europe and America with new rules.

By the initiative of the British the game was first introduced at the II Olympic Games held in Paris in 1900 under the name of "polo", the name being widely accepted in the West thereafter. 5 polo teams from 3 countries participated in the Paris competitions.

In the medieval Islam World, renowned for its power and grandeur, Azerbaijan was one of the leading states in terms of cultural development and scientific potential. Along with sciences like philosophy, natural history, astronomy, mathematics as well as music, literature and fine arts, an intellectual game of chess was also widely spread in the country. Chess became a favorite pastime in Azerbaijani shahs' palaces. Women also constituted a number of chess players in Azerbaijan. The prominent poet of XII century Azerbaijan, Mehseti Ganjavi was also a strong chess player. This fact, i.e. Mehseti Ganjavis's strong chess skills, is supported by contemporary documents. Records of her games remained till our days. Chess playing became a tradition among Azerbaijani women. While traveling across Azerbaijan in XIX century, French writer Alexander Dumas played chess with Karabakh khan's daughter, famous Azerbaijani poet Khurshudbanu Natavan, and was impressed with her skillful play.

Concluding the thoughts on the development of sport in Azerbaijan it is safe to accept that sport has been among the most ancient traditions in the country. On the basis of material culture found during archeological excavations as well as written sources, masterpieces of fine arts, literary and history sources, folklore and medieval works of art it is possible to assume that wrestling, archery, sword fencing, javelin throw, horse races, chovgan, surpapag, baharband, weightlifting, chess and other sports were widely spread across Azerbaijan. These traditions of sport, preserved through history, reached the country's present days.

At the beginning of XX century the names of Azerbaijani wrestlers Sali Suleyman and Rashid Yusifov were famous all over the world. They succeeded at competitions held in the world's largest cities - Washington, Paris, Chicago, London and Rome. Sali Suleyman was considered one of the most feared wrestlers in the world. He was named "Lion of Dagestan" and "Favorite of The West". No one could ever defeat this wrestler either in his homeland or in foreign countries. Sali Suleyman would easily break iron chains and tie iron ducts into bundles. The tales of his might have reached our days. In terms of sporting successes Rashid Yusifov did not fall behind his fellow countryman.

At the beginning of the last century Baku, undergoing development as an oil industry center became one of the most advanced industrial centers in the world. As a result, many specialists and workers from different countries came to the city. Trying to enjoy their free time the foreigners brought sports common to their homelands to Azerbaijan. Consequently, athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics, swimming, football and many other sports became popular in Baku in those years.

At the beginning of XX century football was particularly popular in Baku. In a short period of time, a number of football teams emerged in the city. Among these teams were "Balakhani footballers union", "Stela", "Friends of Sport", "Sportsman", "Congress", "Unitas", "Belaya", "Centurion", "Tereggi" and others. At the first stage, due to the absence of a union or organization that could hold city championships, cup competitions and official games, conditions of contests were set according to the agreements between captains. In the meantime, the number of football teams in the city was increasing rapidly. International games started to take place. In 1912-1913 matches between Georgia and Azerbaijan teams were held first in Tbilisi and then in Baku. Finally, the Football Union was established in Azerbaijan in 1914. The Union took the commitment of organizing city championships and other competitions. Since that time, foundation of organizations and associations in a variety of sports becomes frequent in the country. As a result of Azerbaijan being a part of Russia the works regarding the development of sport could not be conducted at the state level. Consequently, the state-level development of physical culture and sport in Azerbaijan was launched only in 1920 years. Since that time, the works in the direction of foundation of various sport sections and clubs and introduction of physical culture and sport to the population were conducted not only in Baku but also in other regions and cities. In 1920 the Council of Physical Culture was established under the administration of military training centers. The Council was in charge of sport development and spread across the country. By the initiative of the Council, physical culture was introduced in general education schools, cultural centers, children's homes and workers' clubs and the first sporting groups were founded. In these groups and sections gymnastics, football, athletics, basketball, sword fencing, weightlifting and other sports were studied. During those years "Avtomotor", "Vodnik", "Rechnik" and, shortly after that, "Dinamo" societies were established in Azerbaijan. Since 1921 various intercity sporting events were organized in the country.

Near the end of 1922 Azerbaijan Trade Unions also joined the works regarding physical culture and sports. With the establishment of new sport associations these unions made invaluable contribution to the development of sport's technical recourses in Azerbaijan. In 1923 the first sport magazine in Azerbaijan - "Qirmizi idmanchi" was published. In the same year, the school of physical culture teachers was established in Baku. The school trained teachers and professionals in various sports. Along with the development of traditional sports this led to the emergence of relatively new disciplines. E.G. while in 1920 there were only 2 basketball societies in Azerbaijan, in 1924 their number increased to 52 and in two more years a total number of basketball collectives approached 300. In these years a number of boxing groups were established in Azerbaijan Oil Chemistry Institute and Central Physical Culture House. Competitions and festivals of swimming, water polo and diving were frequently held in the country. A great number of sport fans were engaged in wrestling and weightlifting clubs. In 1924 Rza Bakhshaliev founded a wrestling club named "Kustrud" and introduced French wrestling - one of the modern styles of wrestling, in the club. In those years, alumni of the club competed against the most famous wrestlers of the time - Sali Suleymanov, Rashid Yusifov, Fyodor Margentanger, Andrei Lodz, Eldar Goychayli and others both within and outside the country. Aside of "Kustrud", other sport associations like "Dinamo", "Temp", "Lokomotiv" and Central Physical Culture House were also operating.

Along with the competitions in various sports, complex tournaments were also organized in the republic. Interestingly, competitions named "Olympic Games" were held in Baku in 1925. According to the Olympiad program, contests in a variety of athletic sports were included. This clearly indicates the interest to the Olympics in Azerbaijan, the spread of Olympic ideas in youth at the time when their participation in world-level competitions was impossible.

A chronological observation of the Azerbaijan sport history and its accomplishments as a part of the Soviet Union would itself require a special research. It is worth mentioning that Azerbaijani scientists conducted many investigations related to our sport accomplishments. A brief survey over the details of Azerbaijan sport development history and the achievements in various sports could be worth-while. First it is worth mentioning that since 1950's sport development in Azerbaijan became accelerating.

The process became even more intensive in the second half of the 1960's and in the 1970's. Azerbaijan wrestling preserved its traditional role. Our wrestlers of all styles participated at the country-level, Europe and World championships as well as at the Olympic Games and other international competitions to win fans' admiration with their skills. Since 1950's wrestlers like Musa Babayev, Ibrahimpasha and Muhtar Dadashov brothers, Rashid Mammadbayov, Aydin Ibrahimov, Rafiq Haciev, Telman Pashaev, Viktor Avdishev, Arif Niftullaev, Mahaddin Allahverdiyev, Khazar Isaev successfully represented our sport in the USSR teams at different grand competitions held in different countries.

In the years of independence Azerbaijan wrestlers Namiq Abdullaev, Natiq Eyvazov, Nazim Alicanov, Elman Rustamov, Arif Abdullaev, Azad Aliev, Ilham Abbasov, Davud Mahammadov successfully participated in Europe Championships. Namiq Abdullaev in 1993, Mahammad Ibrahimov in 1995-1996 and Nazim Alicanov in 2002 won the European Championships in freestyle wrestling while Natiq Eyvazov became a European Champion in classical wrestling in 1993. Furthermore, our wrestlers claimed silver and bronze medals at the European and World championships and took first prizes in various international competitions. Our wrestlers won the highest number of licenses for participation at the world's most authoritative Olympic Games. Eight Azerbaijani wrestlers participated at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and nine - at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Among four medals captured at the first Olympics two (one gold and one silver) were captured by wrestler Namiq Abdullayev.

In the 1950's, Azerbaijan, being a part of Soviet Union, was acclaimed for the successes of its athletics school. The country's athletes scored great successes at the union and world competitions in various distance races, pentathlon, hammer throw and long jump. Our athletes would often set Soviet, Europe and World records. The key role in the development of athletics in Azerbaijan belongs to Afgan Safarov.

The country's athletics school is represented by such prominent sportsmen as Khandadash Madatov, Yuri Konvalov, Alexander Kornelyuk, Galina Ganeker, Ziba Alasgarova, Nina Brintseva. Fencing has also been always popular in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani fencers won a number of USSR-level competitions. Drafted to the USSR teams our fencers participated in a number of the European and World Cups. Fencers Samir Ibrahimov, Ilgar Mammadov and Boris Koretski won European and World Cups. Two fencers represented Azerbaijan in the USSR team at the1988 Games in Seoul. Ilgar Mammadov and Boris Koretski won the Olympic gold. Afterwards, Ilgar Mammadov became a double Olympic champion. Since 1999 an alumna of Azerbaijani fencing school Yelena Jemayeva has been successfully performing at various international competitions. She has often won the World and European Cups as well as a number of international contests.

Tennis has also undergone proper development in our country. Azerbaijani tennis players Sergey Likhachyov, Yelena Biryukova and Ramiz Ahmarov won prizes in individual and pair contests at the USSR and European championships as well as various international competitions.

Our athletes were successful also in water sports. Azerbaijani divers represented our republic at the European and World Cups and different Olympiads.

Azerbaijan shooters also gained world recognition. Representing Ukraine in the USSR team, an Azerbaijani shooter Albert Udachin won the World Championship. Afterwards, Azerbaijan shooting school was represented at the Games by Sergey Timokhin, Iada Hashimova and Zemfira Meftahaddinova. In Sidney Zemfira won the gold medal.

The situation of Baku on the coast favors the development of rowing and sailing sports. Our rowers were successfully participating at the USSR championships and all-union sporting events. The construction of an international boat-racing center in Mingechevir laid the foundation for the boost of this sport in Azerbaijan. In the very 1980 Azerbaijani boat races republic were drafted to the USSR Olympic team. At the 1988 Games in Seoul their number increased to 11. At those Games Azerbaijani boat racers claimed silver and bronze medals. In the period of independence the development of rowing fell into decay. Presently, specific measures are being assumed for the restoration of this sport.

Team sports have also been highly popular in Azerbaijan. As mentioned, the onset of football development in Azerbaijan falls at the beginning of the last century. In 2001, the 90th anniversary of Azerbaijani football was celebrated.

The year of 1966 stands out in the history of Azerbaijani football. Ranked 3rd in the same year's USSR Championship, Baku "Neftchi" team won bronze medals. Two players of the team were drafted to the USSR team to participate at the 1966 World Cup held in England. One of them, memorable Anatoly Banishevsky, scored a goal in this championship. Digressing from the topic, it is worth noting that at the same championship the USSR team, ranked 4th, won their first bronze medals. The 1966 World Championship's final game between England and Germany was judged by an Azerbaijani linesman, the renowned Tofig Ahmarov. He was the one to correctly evaluate the questionable score situation and to persuade the main referee not to change the score.

Since 1966 Azerbaijani football teams frequently won in games against the strongest USSR and world teams such as Kiev "Dinamo", Moscow "Spartak" and Tbilisi "Dinamo", with its level of play compared to the level of those teams. In 1968 two Azerbaijani teams played in the USSR major league.

Eight "Neftchi" players formed a part of the first USSR team. In this team, they played 76 games and scored 26 goals.

Azerbaijani football player Valeri Panchik was a captain of the USSR Olympic team. Igor Ponomaryov won the gold at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

Great football players like Alakbar Mammadov, Anatoli Banishevski, Yuri Kuznetsov, Kazbek Tuayev, Sergei Kramarenko, a coach Ahmad Alasgarov, renowned referees like Tofig Bahramov and Eldar Azimzade have been trained in the last 90 years in Azerbaijan.

Alakbar Mammadov was the only Azerbaijani football player to win four USSR championships and receive the titles of Honored Master of Sports and Honored Coach. His greatest accomplishment falls at the year of 1955, when he scored 4 goals in the game against an Italian champion "Milan".

Anatoli Banishevski scored a total of 136 goals in USSR championships. Banishevski's contribution to the USSR team winning bronze medals at the 1966 World Championship and gold medals at the European Championship was invaluable.

Azerbaijani Eldar Azimzade judged the final game at the 1980 Olympic football event.

The century's last decade faced the emergence of Azerbaijani national team and participation of local clubs at European Cups. Unfortunately, our football was not successful in the period of independence. Presently, the Azerbaijan football is living the times of decline.

Compared to football, Azerbaijan volleyball had greater accomplishments and this tradition has been continued till the present days.

Even while volleyball originated in the distant land of America, it has been over 60 years since this popular game was adopted in Azerbaijan and started to attract more and more people every year. In the 1930's our volleyball's level was highly recognized in the former USSR. Among the athletes defending the honor of our sport in those years were volleyball players Boyukkishi Muradov and Ivan Dyachkov. Ivan Dyachkov played the key role in the development of Azerbaijani volleyball in 1946-1947 years. Under his supervision, Azerbaijani men's volleyball team frequently gained victories in the 1950's. With the boost of the interest in volleyball n the country in 1950's a number of very strong volleyball players emerged in Azerbaijan. They were drafted to the USSR teams and participated at the European and World Championships. There was an Azerbaijani volleyball player in the staff of the USSR team ranked 3rd at the World Championship in Paris in 1956. Two years later, our volleyball player Ogtay Agayev won the bronze at the European Championship.

In 1957 teams of 16 republics (Karelia being the 16th) as well as Moscow and Leningrad (Saint Petersburg) teams competed against each other at the USSR Cup event. In the final game the Moscow team with 7 members of the USSR team in its staff met the Azerbaijani team. In a very tense struggle our players defeated the Muscovites with the final score of 3:2 and won the Cup. The coach of the Azerbaijani team Ivan Dyachkov worked in Cuba for many years and made great contribution to the development of volleyball in this country.

Coach Shamil Shamkhalov made great efforts for the development of the women's volleyball in Azerbaijan. In 1956 six students of Shamkhalov won the USSR Youths championship. Three years later Shamil muallim went to Moscow with boys' and girls' teams to participate at the All-union School Spartakiad. Both teams won the championship. In 1962 18-years old Inna Riskal was drafted to the USSR team to participate at the World Championship. With the only loss to the Japanese the team ranked 2nd. Inna, who became one of the key players in the USSR team participated in four Olympiads and captured two gold medals and two silver medals. Another Azerbaijani volleyball player Vera Lantratova won the Olympiad in 1972. Vera Lantratova and Inna Riskal, being members of the USSR team, often participated at the World and European Championships, winning various titles. Inna Riskal was considered one of the three strongest woman volleyball players of the century.

At the beginning of the 1960's two Azerbaijani women's teams, "Neftchi" and "Mahsul" participated at the USSR Championship. In the outstanding year for Azerbaijani sport, 1966, the national women's volleyball team, like our football team, won the USSR Championship bronze medal.

After the appointment to the position of chief coach in 1986 Faig Garayev laid the foundation for the restoration of women's volleyball in Azerbaijan. A year after, our team entered the major league. Ranked 9th in 1989 and 3rd in 1990 the team won its first awards. The women from Baku won the last USSR Championship in 1991.

In 1992-1993 the team participated at European Top-Team Cup competitions as an independent nation's team and took the 2nd place. Azerbaijani team ranked 1st at the 1993 Bulgaria World Championship elimination stage, won the "Bahar" cup in Rumania in 1994, and ranked 9th at the same year's World Championship thus joining the list of the world's 10 strongest women's teams.

Observing the history of Azerbaijani volleyball we must mention the name of a certain man. An international referee, Azerbaijani Ramiz Samadov judged volleyball matches at the World Cups and Olympiads.

With the support of the National Olympic Committee well-grounded efforts are being made in the direction of women's volleyball restoration in Azerbaijan.

The number of female and male handball players has been steadily increasing. The national women's handball team scored great successes. With the accelerated development in the second half of the 1960's, the 1970's became a golden age of Azerbaijani handball. In the USSR championships held in those years Baku teams won seven silver and one bronze medal.

The "Avtomobilchi" team, performing successfully at the 1977 European Cup, reached the finals. Since the 1960's national players were drafted to the USSR teams and participated at the World and European Championships. In the USSR Olympic team, three of Azerbaijani handball players - Rafiga Shabanova, Ludmila Shubina and Yelena Guseva, won the gold medals. The last year were marked with the restoration of Azerbaijani handball.

With the team sports like water polo, basketball, field hockey being highly popular in the republic, the national teams won numerous awards at USSR competitions. Drafted to the USSR teams Azerbaijani water polo and field hockey players successfully participated at European and World Championships and the Olympic Games.

As evident from the foresaid, Azerbaijan is a country with rich sport traditions of millennial history and extensive development. Presently, Azerbaijani sport is on the way to its greatest triumphs. The Olympic Games in Sydney again demonstrated that Azerbaijani athletes are capable of remarkable accomplishments.
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