Footballers for Galatasaray, the legendary Turkish club, may soon be wearing the name of Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, across their chests. Kazakhstan’s sovereign-wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna, is rumored to be close to signing a five-year, $50 million deal to sponsor Galatasaray, Turkish media has reported.
Samruk-Kazyna is the main source of funding for the Astana Presidential Sports Club. Astana was already affiliated with the Istanbul-based team after the two signed a cooperation agreement in April. It is unclear if the jerseys will be marked “Astana” or “Samruk-Kazyna.”
Team Astana, founded in 2012, has had a good year. In cycling, the team’s Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France. Figure skater Denis Ten, who receives funding from Samruk-Kazyna, won bronze for Kazakhstan at the Sochi Winter Olympics. And Samruk-Kazyna-funded middleweight boxer Gennady Golovkin successfully defended his world champion title in October.
The wins are part of President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s relentless effort to promote the capital city he founded in 1997, and Kazakhstan more generally, on the world stage. Senior officials are actively engaged in the effort. National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov, for example, is president of the Cycling Association funded by Samruk-Kazyna.
Another Caspian country, Azerbaijan, is also using its oil wealth to slather its brand across football jerseys in the West. In November 2012, Azerbaijan and Spanish football team Atlético Madrid announced a two-year sponsorship agreement worth $15 million. Atlético Madrid’s jerseys bore the slogan “Azerbaijan: Land of Fire” throughout a surprisingly strong season this year that brought the club to the European Champions League finals.
Earlier this month, Football Club Astana won the Kazakhstan Premier League for the first time and is due to participate in European Champions League qualifiers next season. It would be an exciting irony should FC Galatasaray, marked with the Astana brand, and FC Astana engage in the same competition.