From Katie to karate - here's all you need to know about the inaugural European Games

There are 63 athletes representing Team Ireland at the event which starts tomorrow.

All eyes will be on Katie Taylor once again.
All eyes will be on Katie Taylor once again.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AFTER YEARS OF planning, the inaugural European Games, which is the first multi-sport event on the continent, begins in Baku on Friday.

With just twelve months until Rio 2016, the next two weeks offers the 6,000 athletes the opportunity to kick-start their preparations or, in some cases, secure qualification for Brazil.

Katie Taylor leads a strong Irish team hoping to make their mark and force their way into the reckoning for next summer.

Azerbaijan have pulled out all the stops as they look to make a big impression on the sporting world. Five new venues have been built in the Azeri capital with the imposing 68,000 seater National Stadium the crown in the jewel.

The build-up to the event has been relatively low key so here’s everything you need to know about the first edition.

What is the European Games?

29213_12-MD-HD The new national stadium in Baku which has a capacity of 68,000 Source: Baku2015

The inaugural European Games, or European Olympics as some are referring to it as, takes place between 12 and 28 June in Baku, Azerbaijan.

There are 6,000 athletes from 50 countries competing in 20 sports, 16 of which are on the Olympic programme.

Baku was awarded the rights to host the event back in December 2012 and it will be the first major sporting event the country has staged.

All sports, save for the canoe sprint, will take place in the city centre across 18 venues.

Why has there been controversy in the build-up?

Azerbaijan European Games Patrick Hickey, the head of the European Olympic Committee, has had his hands full of late Source: AP/Press Association Images

The build-up to what promises to be an exciting 17 days has been somewhat overshadowed by non-sporting developments.

Amnesty International have heavily criticised the country’s human rights record and it emerged this morning that The Guardian newspaper is one of a number of media outlets denied access by the government despite holding all the relevant accreditation.

President Ilham Aliyev and the autocratic government have invested billions of Dollars into the staging of the event as they attempt to enhance the country’s reputation and put Azerbaijan on the map.

However, human rights organisations estimate the government has prosecuted or jailed up to 35 journalists, activists and critics on unfounded charges as they look to silence the critics.

It’s unlikely those issues will go away once the games begin and we’re sure to hear more about them over the course of the next few weeks.

What about the Ireland team?

Katie Taylor leads the Irish team holding the flag Taylor, just like she did in London, will be Team Ireland's flag bearer Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Olympic champion Katie Taylor will be Team Ireland’s flag bearer for Friday’s opening ceremony which takes place at 5pm Irish time.

Team Ireland will be represented across 14 sports and Taylor is part of a 12-strong boxing squad hoping to continue their success on the big stage.

In all, there will be 63 Irish athletes (36 male and 27 female) competing in their respective disciplines during the course of the next two weeks but our top track and field runners, including Mark English, aren’t involved as they prepare for the World Championships in August.

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Naturally, Ireland’s best medal hopes lie with the boxing team but gymnast Kieran Behan, cyclist Ryan Mullen and triathlete Aileen Reid are all at the top of their game and will be genuine contenders for podium finishes.

What events should I keep an eye out for?

Aileen Reid Aileen Reid has stiff competition for a medal on Saturday Source: Photosport/Darryl Carey/INPHO

Reid is first-up for Ireland on Saturday morning in the Women’s Triathlon at 8.30am and having finished agonisingly outside the medal berths in London, the 32-year-old has been in scintillating form of late.

She is currently the top ranking European on the World Triathlon leaderboard and is certainly a good bet to get Ireland on the board straight away.

From Sunday onwards, there are a host of Irish athletes in competition with the Canoe Sprint, Gymnastics and Karate all taking centre stage.

The boxing gets underway from Tuesday with Darren O’Neill’s bout in the Men’s Heavy (91kg) at 10am the pick of the bunch while the Men’s and Women’s Individual Cycling Time Trials on Thursday are certainly worth keeping an eye on.

All eyes will be on Katie Taylor, however, as she begins her quest for more glory on Sunday 21 June with a Round of 16 bout in the Women’s Light division at 8.30am.

To keep track of when all the Irish athletes are competing, there is a handy schedule available here.

And what about the other sports?

37185_12-MD-HD The Water Polo Arena is one of five new stadiums built for the event Source: Baku2015

Organisers have introduced several experimental events for the games with a view to testing them for possible inclusion in future Olympics.

Beach football stands out as one to watch with karate, basketball 3×3 and sambo the other new sports to this format.

The other 16 sports are: aquatics, archery, athletics, badminton, volleyball, boxing, canoe, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, judo and wrestling.

Is there Olympic qualification on the line?

In 12 of the sports, there will be an opportunity for competitors to book their place at Rio 2016.

Triathlon is among the sports which offers direct qualification while in others, such as archery, there are valuable ranking points on offer.

In boxing, the gold and silver medal winners, plus the bronze medallist beaten by the eventual gold medallist, will qualify for the World Championships in Doha in October.

That event is one of the main qualifying tournaments for Rio.

Where can I watch it?

Setanta Sports have wall-to-wall coverage for the next two weeks, starting with tomorrow’s opening ceremony from 4.55pm.

The42 will have coverage throughout the event of Ireland’s participants and hopefully we’ll be able to bring you good news on the medal front.

Originally published Thursday at 17.10

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