Sport in Azerbaijan has ancient roots, and even now, both traditional and modern sports are still practiced. Freestyle wrestling has been traditionally regarded as Azerbaijan’s national sport, in which Azerbaijan won up to 14 medals, including 4 golds since joining the National Olympic Committee. Even though today, the most popular sports in Azerbaijan are football and chess.
The national football team of Azerbaijan demonstrates relatively low performance in the international arena compared to the nation football clubs. It is mainly because of the foreign footballers playing in the clubs. However, the newly opened Azerbaijan Football Academy in February 2009 is a huge step in the development of the youth football. The most successful Azerbaijani football clubs are Neftchi Baku, FC Baku, Inter Baku, FK Qarabağ and Khazar Lankaran. In 2012, Neftchi Baku became the first Azerbaijani team to advance to the group stage of a European competition, beating APOEL of Cyprus 4-2 on aggregate in the play-off round of the 2012-13 UEFA Europa League. In 2012, country also hosted the 2012 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. Futsal is another popular sport in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan national futsal team reached the fourth place in 2010 UEFA Futsal Championship, while domestic club Araz Naxçivan clinched bronze medals at 2009–10 UEFA Futsal Cup.
Backgammon plays a major role in Azerbaijani culture. This game is very popular in Azerbaijan and is widely played among the local public. There are also different variations of backgammon developed and analyzed by Azerbaijani experts. Azerbaijan is known as one of the chess superpowers; despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, chess is still extremely popular. Notable Azerbaijani chess players include Teimour Radjabov, Shahriyar Mammadyarov, Vladimir Makogonov, Garry Kasparov, Vugar Gashimov and Zeinab Mamedyarova. Azerbaijan has also hosted many international chess tournaments and competitions and became European Team Chess Championship winners in 2009.
Other well-known Azerbaijani athletes are Namig Abdullayev, Toghrul Asgarov, Rovshan Bayramov, Sharif Sharifov, Mariya Stadnik and Farid Mansurov in wrestling, Hayle Ibrahimov in athletics, Elnur Mammadli and Movlud Miraliyev in judo, Rafael Aghayev in karate, Valeriya Korotenko and Natalya Mammadova in volleyball, Nizami Pashayev, Intiqam Zairov and Sardar Hasanov in weightlifting and K-1 fighter Zabit Samedov.