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Competition start, first medals to end criticism of Games

Neff of Switzerland reacts after winning the women's cross country mountain bike cycling race of the 1st European Games in Baku

The start of the European Games and the award of the first medals will end the criticism levelled at the inaugural event in Azerbaijan, European Olympic Committees President Patrick Hickey said on Saturday.

The build-up was marred by criticism of Azerbaijan’s human rights record and reports that some rights organisations and reporters had been prevented from entering the country.

The decision not to send many of continent’s top swimmers or athletes, two of the largest events on the Olympic programme, to the Games was also controversial.

The Netherlands this week withdrew from hosting the 2019 edition, compounding fears that the event lacked a future in an already saturated international sports calendar.

“Once the Games start all this critical stuff goes out the window and the Games get a life of their own,” Hickey told reporters after presenting Swiss mountain biker Yolanda Neff with the first gold medal of the Games.

“It was a great honour at the inaugural European Games to present the first medal. I feel I have got a place in history and I’m very proud of it.

“The ceremony was superb. It was a great success and the job they did was truly outstanding.”

Neff, 22, had the accolade of standing atop the podium for the first time at a European Games.

“It is the first European Games ever and this is the first medal event so to cross the finish line in first place and win the first ever gold medal is absolutely amazing,” she said.

“It’s a great event here, the organisation is perfect and everything works. We have a really nice athletes’ village, it’s an amazing event and it’s great that I can be part of it.”

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