Meet the Match

An Azerbaijani Inspires New Generation of Sports Leaders

Salhat Abbasova was raised in the capital city of Baku, Azerbaijan. Her father, an Olympic swimmer for Ukraine, was the one responsible for sparking Salhat’s initial passion for sport. Although his own disillusionment with the politics of sport ultimately led him to pursue a music career, his initial love for athletics and movement were a part of Salhat’s early childhood identity. This passion was later fostered through her involvement in physical education classes at school.

“Growing up, it was not really appropriate for girls to love sports or to be physically active. Outside of school, we were not encouraged to participate. There were very few opportunities for girls outside of the compulsory physical education classes at my school. Some parents at that time wrote notes to the principals to excuse their daughters from physical education classes. It was a different mindset, a different time.”

With the support of her parents, Salhat participated in physical education classes and fell in love with a number of team sports, including handball, volleyball, hockey, and gymnastics. Her prowess in handball eventually led to a spot on the national team for the Soviet Union. It was through this experience that Salhat came to understand the unique power of sport to transcend cultural barriers.

“During my time on the national team, there were a number of different nations that played together under the name of the Soviet Union. It was really enjoyable. We learned so much about one another and most importantly we learned that our individual countries should not surpass our team goals.”

This unifying experience on the court drove Salhat to study Sports Administration at the university, exploring deeper her fascination with the Olympic ideals and the ways Olympism is used to unite cultures and build peace among nations. Salhat’s education has opened many doors for her and ultimately positioned her to serve on the Organizing Committee of the Executive Board for the 2020 Summer Olympics bid in Baku.

Using her experiences in sports administration and management, Salhat would like to launch her own NGO that promotes sport as a tool for peace building and empowerment. Through her NGO, Salhat wants to educate underserved populations, particularly young girls in rural areas, as she views these girls to be the linchpin in creating a healthier society.

“Girls who are involved in sport are typically healthy, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. When these girls become mothers, they will not only know how to raise their daughters, but also their sons. Healthy mothers have and raise healthier children. Therefore, if we improve the lives of our girls through sport, we can create a new and healthy society.”

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