WHAT are we to make of the inaugural European Games, currently underway in Azerbaijan?

Britain has a team of 160 athletes in Baku for an event which, despite 6000 competitors, is masquerading as a world-class multi-sport spectacular. The reality is that few of the 20 disciplines are of global standard.

Judo is a genuine European championships, but water polo and synchronised swimming are under-17 events - not even European junior level. GB triathletes have done well, but will have to improve considerably to be Rio Olympic team contenders next year.

The paucity of UK correspondents in Baku tells us what sports editors think of the quality of the GB team and the event itself. So does the withdrawal of the Netherlands, only contender to host the next edition.

The idea on the face of it is good. Europe is the only continent not to have a multi-sport games, but it is also the one with the most developed single-sport championship tradition. It needs a multi-sport spectacular less than any other continent.

But Azerbaijan? Should Britain really be there? This is a country with an appalling human rights record - one which has blocked the presence of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and denied visas to journalists, including British ones, whom the host nation judged likely to cause embarrassment.

Numerous prominent journalists, and pro-democracy and rights activists, have been imprisoned on apparently spurious charges ranging from embezzlement and treason to incitement of suicide. Some have been tortured.

Many have consequently fled the country, fearing the consequences for themselves and their families if they reveal their experiences or detail abuses.

Accredited UK journalists in Baku, there to cover sport, have declined to report on the political regime, believing their communications to be compromised, scrutinised by a spy and police-state system modelled on that of the Soviet Union.

This should come as no surprise. Azerbaijan is a former Soviet state, and the concerns of journalists, articulated yesterday, had a familiar ring.

When we reported from the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, communications were less sophisticated. In the era before mobile phones and lap tops, every word had to be dictated down the phone line to copy-takers in Glasgow. One had to give the number to which one wanted to be connected to an operator, enabling every word to be monitored by the listening Soviets. During one 500-word story critical of the Communist regime the connection was broken several times. We ended up commandeering a telex machine and sending the remainder in a couple of minutes, before it could be interrupted or monitored.

When I attempted to photograph a family of dissident Pentecostal baptists at the US embassy, I was prodded in the ribs by the bayonet of a Soviet embassy guard. On both occasions I took the precaution of ensuring there were media colleagues as witnesses. Beijing in 2008 was a breeze by comparison.

The Baku event is devised by the European Olympic Committee. It is part of the Olympic movement, yet Azerbaijan is clearly in breach of the Olympic Charter which claims to uphold the values of peace, respect, and mutual understanding, and pledges sport will be used to develop society.

The reality is quite the reverse, an event used to massage and whitewash the image of a repressive regime. Just as was the case with the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia last year when the IOC charter was again betrayed.

Apparently colluding in Baku is the former chief executive of the British Olympic Association, Simon Clegg, who is the event's chief operating officer. He has side-stepped political questions but said the organisers have made representations about those who have been denied accreditation. Also involved are Colin Gibson (a former-Fleet Street broadsheet sports editor) as director of communications, and Jayne Pierce, a woman whose cv embraces the IAAF, FIFA, Olympic and Commonwealth Games, is director of press operations. Should they have moral issues about being there?

Such a heavyweight trio lend legitimacy to the Azeri event, and they have enlisted other experienced personnel who will do likewise. Azeri oil revenues, third highest in Eurasia, ensure the country can hire the best.

The country has been controlled by the mafia-style Aliyev family for more than two decades. Suppression of opposition is ruthless.

Dr Leyla Yunis, director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, sent a letter to the Olympic movement, asking that the European Games be taken elsewhere. When the letter was made public, she and her husband were clapped in jail. She was charged with treason, fraud, forgery, tax evasion and illegal business. In jail she has been denied treatment for a liver problem, diabetes, hepatitis and eye problems. She has lost 16 kilos and denied access to lawyers.

So, as we asked, should Britain be there? We were against Western attempts to boycott the 1980 Olympics. In contrast, we supported South Africa being ostracised from sport over apartheid. Baku is a fait accompli. What we now need is maximum exposure of Azeri excesses. Competitors in Baku must come clean on their return over what they have observed.

All that is required for evil to prevail is for the good to remain silent.

The Dutch have done sport a service by declining to become future hosts. I suspect Baku will spike any future for a multi-sport European Games. Especially if it is to be a platform for thugs and suppression of democracy.Those who competed in Baku risk becoming reviled, like those who saluted the Nazi regime at the 1936 Olympics.