By Karolos Grohmann
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Azerbaijan is planning to use next year's inaugural European Games as a stepping stone for another Olympic bid after two failed attempts, the country's sports minister said on Saturday.
The capital Baku stumbled twice in the first stage of its attempt to land the 2016 and the 2020 Olympic Games, but sports minister Azad Rahimov said the experience from the first continental Games next year will prove invaluable as the country prepares another run on the Olympics.
"The big problem was the lack of experience for us," Rahimov told reporters in Sochi. "That was the crucial point for us. We did not have experience of a big sports event."
Baku twice did not make the shortlist of candidate cities drawn up by the International Olympic Committee.
"But now we can proudly say, once we stage the European Games that we will then have that experience," he said. "Then we can bid more successfully (for the Olympics)."
The energy-rich nation is the first host of the European Games aimed to be a small and experimental event which, as well as Olympic sports such as swimming and cycling, also includes untested disciplines like 3x3 basketball and beach soccer.
"This is something completely new," said the head of the coordination commission of the European Olympic Committees Spyros Capralos. "The IOC will see how these new ideas will be implemented."
Europe is the only continent not to have its own competition such as the Asian Games or the Pan-American Games.
The European Games will also be a qualification event for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics for about half a dozen sports, including shooting, triathlon, archery and fencing.
"After this event they (Azerbaijan) will be able to run any event at the highest level," said EOC President Patrick Hickey.
(Editing by Ossian Shine)