Head of European Games: Human rights issues not overshadowing the event in Azerbaijan

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LONDON — With 50 days left until the opening ceremony, the head of the inaugural European Games in Baku said there is still "a huge amount" of work to be done to be ready on time for an event that continues to be dogged by human rights issues in Azerbaijan.

Simon Clegg, chief operating officer of the games, said on Thursday "there is no scope for complacency or delay" as Baku completes final preparations for the multi-sport event taking place from June 12-18 in the former Soviet republic.

"The biggest challenge has always been time," Clegg said in a conference call. "Let's not forget (preparations) have been compressed to 2 1/2 years. This country does not have a large track record of organizing events of this scale. The magnitude is beginning to dawn on some of the colleagues ... just how big this event is."

The games will feature 6,000 athletes from about 50 countries competing in 20 sports.

Clegg spoke on the same day organizers announced they had reached a deal with BT Sport to televise the games in the U.K., and Britain announced a 153-strong squad for the games.

Clegg said he was still seeking a broadcast deal in Russia. Organizers already have agreements for the games to be shown across Europe, and in the United States, China, and Australia.

The buildup to the games comes amid complaints from human rights groups of a clampdown by the government of Ilham Aliyev.

Many activists and independent journalists in the energy-rich Caspian Sea nation have been jailed since the country's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"I don't think it is overshadowing the European Games," Clegg said. "I recognize that there are some questions being asked. Those political questions need to be put to politicians. All I can do ... is focus on the massive challenge that I've got ahead of me of delivering the first ever European Games for the best athletes in Europe.'

"I'm not going to get dragged into areas of activities which obviously fall totally outside my scope of responsibility. I have more than enough on my plate to deal with at this moment in time."

Clegg also said the recently announced plans for a European sports championship to be held in Germany and Scotland in 2018 would not threaten the next edition of the European Games in 2019.

"It has no impact on us," he said.

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