Issue 1, 2015. February-March

   

PLAYING THE HOST: GEORGIA'S FIRST OLYMPICS AT HOME

Maia Edilashvili

Georgia is preparing for The European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF)- the first post-Soviet country to host this biennial multi-sport event. Organizers are hoping the games will help bolster the country's economy and pave the way to host more high-level international events in the future.

"Georgia has gone through many important milestones throughout the centuries, but now we will become hosts of the Olympic fire for the first time in our history," Aleksi Akhvlediani, chairman of the organizing committee of EYOF Tbilisi 2015, said in the interview with Investor.ge.

The country has been preparing since Georgia beat out the Czech Republic to host the games in November 2010 by just five votes, 26-21 .

The competition venues have been under construction for the past four years at a total cost of 100-130 million lari, funded by both the Georgian state budget and the World and European Sports Federations.

"There is a myth that sports are always subsidy-based. Well, that might be true for some categories, but some sports can even bring revenue to the country," Akhvlediani said.

Olympic Dreams of Profits and Investment

Expectations go beyond sports: the organizing committee of EYOF Tbilisi 2015 also sees huge economic benefits.

"These events can bring investment right into those fields that are so important for a country like Georgia: the neediest areas - medium and small businesses. I mean, who will see a fiscal impact? Those who are engaged in tourism, transportation, food, souvenirs, trips and other related enterprises," he said."Therefore, Tbilisi 2015 is not just a ten-day event. Rather it will be a historic occasion with a lasting impact on our future."

He noted that an estimated 7,000 foreign visitors are expected to attend EYOF Tbilisi 2015, which will open on July 26 at the Lokomotiv Stadium and end on August 1 at the Athletes' Village.

The organizers are also hoping that The European Youth Olympic Festival will inspire more international sporting events to choose Georgia. The sporting infrastructure under construction is monitored three times per year by the European Olympic Committee. Akhvlediani said Georgia has been getting "very high" evaluations for the past half year.

Akhvlediani noted that if the country succeeds in organizing this event flawlessly, it will help establish Georgia's image worldwide as "a country which can organize high-profile sports events at a high level, which is very significant."

"We already see the fruit of developing this cutting-edge infrastructure - Georgia will host, for the first time in history, the 2016 European Athletics Youth Championships, which will be the second most important sports event after EYOF Tbilisi 2015. And in 2017, we will host the Men's Handball Youth World Championship and The Women's European Volleyball Championship," he said.

The Olympic Festival will bring over 3,800 athletes, aged 14-18, from 49 European countries to Tbilisi. The EYOF's program includes nine sports - judo, tennis, artistic gymnastics, cycling, athletics, swimming, volleyball, handball and basketball-which means that new Olympic-standard venues will be built for each sport, including a new swimming pool with a capacity of 3,000 seats and a new gymnastics venue that will seat 1,294. Some existing sports venues have been slated for European-standard renovations, as well.

All the participants of the festival will be accommodated at the newly constructed Athletes' Village located near the Tbilisi Sea.

The organizing committee has promised to have all the facilities ready by late May, so that local participants will have a chance to perfect their performances in the event venues.

Georgia's strongest entries are expected in judo, athletics, tennis and swimming.

"There has been a special three-year program to prepare our young athletes specifically for this festival, and because of this we hope that this festival will bring the most medals for Georgia, which will influence our future results in the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. So, these young athletes are Georgia's future Olympians and medalists," Akhvlediani said.

Gold-Medal Events, Sporting Lifestyles

There is also hope that the event will inspire young Georgians to embrace sports and healthy lifestyles. So far, the plan seems to be working. Akhvlediani said that the committee has already received over 5,000 applications for volunteers, to fill just 2500 positions.