Kazakhstan’s high-profile world champion boxer, Gennady Golovkin, has been made an ambassador for Astana’s EXPO-2017 in a move to improve the image of the graft-plagued project.
Golovkin, boxing’s undisputed middleweight champion, was anointed as an official ambassador for the international exhibition, which will be held in Astana in 2017, by President Nursultan Nazarbayev during his visit to Washington on March 31.
Golovkin, known as GGG and rated one of the world’s best pound-for-pound boxers, is one of Kazakhstan’s best-known sports exports. He was on the party list for the ruling Nur Otan party in March’s election along with many other celebrities, but did not make the final cutinto parliament. His presence will boost the global image of EXPO-2017, which has been rocked by a huge corruption scandal.
A high-profile trial began in Astana on March 18 with Talgat Yermegiyayev, former chairman of the Astana EXPO-2017 company organizing the exhibition, accused along with 22 others of stealing in excess of 10 billion tenge (US$29 million at the current exchange rates) from the construction funds.
EXPO-2017 has also been landed with budget cuts — with Kazakhstan in the throes of economic crisis, some one-tenth of the originally expected total expenditure of $3 billion has been shaved off the budget.
In August, a new team headed by former Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov was parachuted in to knock the project back into shape. But his leadership has come in for criticism from insiders linked to the project.
After weeks of speculation, Andrey Arshavin, the former Arsenal and Russia star, has finally committed his future to Almaty’s FC Kairat, helping stoke Kazakhstan’s dreams of success on the European football stage.
Arshavin became the latest legionnaire to join Kazakhstan’s Premier League after signing a 1+1 deal with FC Kairat on March 18. The club’s website had pictures of Arshavin signing up to a one-year deal with the possibility of a further year’s extension.
Speculation about Arshavin’s future began in February when his contract with Russia’s Kuban Krasnador was terminated by mutual consent. He was spotted training with FC Kairat ahead of Kazakhstan’s Super Cup match with FC Astana, which opened the 2016 season on March 8. FC Kairat won that game on penalties.
Arshavin, 34, is set to make his debut in Kazakhstan’s top-tier on April 3 in the match against Uralsk’s FC Akzhayik. The former Russia captain started his career at Zenit St Petersburg in 1999. Following some eye-catching performances during 2008, a number of big European clubs appeared as suitors for the rising star before Arsenal finally landed him for around $24 million, a club record at the time, in 2009.
After a bright start, Arshavin’s career in England’s Premier League faltered and he was loaned back to Zenit in 2012. Having failed to secure a place in Zenit’s starting line-up, Arshavin was then loaned out to Kuban Krasnador in 2015.
Arshavin joins another seasoned legionnaire in Almaty: Ukrainian international Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, 36. Tymoshchuk formerly starred for Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St. Petersburg and Bayern Munich.
Kazakhstan’s flagship Astana sporting project could be on the rocks after its main sponsor announced significant funding cutbacks in response to the economic crisis engulfing the country.
"Of course, it will reduce the funding of the sports project, but that does not mean that the project will be closed. But there will be a very big reduction," Darkhan Kaletayev, managing director of Kazakhstan’s Samruk-Kazyna sovereign wealth fund, which bankrolls the project, told journalists in remarks reported by Kazinform on February 25.
The Astana Presidential Sports Club was set up in 2012 as the umbrella organization for clubs in Kazakhstan's capital. Included in its ranks are soccer's FC Astana, Barys hockey club and the Astana Pro Team cyclists. It also supports individuals such as world champion boxer Gennady Golovkin and Ilya Ilyin, an Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter.
Samruk-Kazyna has seen serious budget cuts as government cash dries up as a result of falling oil prices crimping the budget. In a sign that it is in financial straits, the wealth fund is currently engaged in a fire sale of assets worth billions of dollars.
The government has also revealed the extent of the pain being inflicted on the economy, slashing growth forecasts to 0.5 percent in 2016, down from its previous forecast of 2.1 percent.
With the crisis biting hard in Kazakhstan, the nation’s most famous cyclist, Alexandre Vinokourov, has bucked the austerity trend by unveiling his latest two-wheeler — a glitzy gold-painted racing bike.
Vinokourov’s bling bike, unveiled ahead of this week’s 2016 Dubai Tour, features a gilded frame and is equipped with top-of-the range fittings. It’s emblazoned with his Vino logo and the Olympic emblem, in honor of his gold-medal winning performance in the London Games in 2012, Cycling News reported
Vinokourov, who retired from competitive racing in 2012 after winning his Olympic gold, now manages Pro Team Astana, which competes on the world tour. The team is part of Kazakhstan's flagship sports project, Astana Presidential Sports Club, which oversees various sports and is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.
The appearance of the bling bike comes at a time when Kazakhstan is facing swingeing, across-the-board cuts as the tenge topples alongside the oil price.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has urged the nation to tighten its collective belt and eschew foie gras and luxury cars while the crisis rages on. He recently visited a bazaar in the capital, Astana, where he was shocked to see lemons selling for 150 tenge ($0.40). “We can survive without lemons,” he reassured the public.
The mystery of how much cash Kazakhstan has been pumping into its flagship Astana sporting project has been solved. Darkhan Kaletayev, a leading light in the project, revealed all as to who gets what.
The biggest recipient of cash from the coffers of the Astana Presidential Sports Club, set up in 2012 as the umbrella organization for clubs in Kazakhstan's glitzy capital, is soccer's FC Astana, currently enjoying a run in UEFA's Champions League. Barys hockey club and the Astana Pro Team cyclists also receive big bucks from the fund, which is bankrolled by the deep pockets of Kazakhstan’s powerful sovereign-wealth fund, Samruk-Kazyna.
A key supporter of the project is Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a keen sports fan who can be seen pumping iron to a rap soundtrack in this promotional video for the presidential sports club.
FC Astana, which won Kazakhstan’s Premier League for the second time in a row on November 8, has pulled in $16 million from its European adventure — 35 percent of the club's annual budget, Kaletayev, managing director of Samruk-Kazyna, said in an interview given to Soviet Sport. This would put the club's funding at around $45 million a year.
Barys hockey club, which plays in the Kontinental Hockey League, receives around $40 million per year, while the Astana cycling team is underwritten to the tune of $18 million. The Astana brand also sponsors a basketball team, a stable of boxers, including world champion Gennady Golovkin, Olympic champion weightlifter Ilya Ilyin, and figure skater Denis Ten.
In the international soccer stakes, the capital of Kazakhstan is becoming the away destination that clubs dread to visit.
As Europe is gently settling into the cooler weather of November, the players of FC Astana are already familiar with temperatures below freezing.
If the weather was frosty for the visiting Atletico Madrid squad, who traveled to Astana for the latest Champions League group stages match on November 3, the greeting certainly wasn’t.
Europe’s premier competition has proven a major draw and the 30,000-seater Astana Arena was again full to capacity for Tuesday’s game, although traffic snarls meant many ended up missing the first 15 minutes.
FC Astana is becoming the master of grinding out the tedious draw, and they did their magic against a lackluster Atletico, thereby ensuring their unbeaten home record.
Fans were kept on the edge of their seats to the very end. A last-minute save from FC Astana's Nenad Eric denied Atletico and preserved the goalless scoreline.
The 0-0 result won’t get any hearts racing, but but it does mean that Astana still have a slender chance of progressing in the competition. In October, Astana held Turkey's Galatasaray to a 2-2 draw. The team has two points out of four games, which is more than some pundits might have expected of them.
The sub-zero temperatures in Kazakhstan's capital, the second coldest in the world after Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, were expected to make life difficult for their Madrilenian opponents.
“Maybe the cold weather will cause Atletico problems. We can open the roof in the stadium a bit to make it tougher for them,” FC Astana's Bulgarian coach Stanimir Stoilov joked ahead of the game.
Almaty is cleaning up its act as residents have now got a direct line to the mayor via Instagram for reporting problems on the city's streets in real time.
Baurzhan Baybek was appointed in August as a leading light of Kazakhstan's new guard of western-educated apparatchiks. A few months into his term, Baybek’s office brought the administration kicking and screaming into the cyber-age by setting up the akimat_almaty Instagram account.
The page, which has already attracted more than 22,000 followers, encourages residents to post images of problems in the city using the hashtag #akimatalmaty. Concerned citizens have posted pictures of garbage heaps and missing drain covers. In response, the mayor's office has fixed the problems and then posted photos of its work.
Since replacing the old guard mayor, Akhmetzhan Yesimov, Baybek has overseen a more hands-on approach to running Kazakhstan's most populous city. In one notable case, he visited an Almaty children's hospital after pictures of appalling conditions in the clinic were posted on Facebook.
The Instragram account has also been used to publicize city hall initiatives, including the establishment of a dedicated bus lane on the main Abai Avenue and pre-paid tickets for the city's public transport network.
It also harnessed cyberspace to promote a city-wide clean-up day on October 10, which saw students and public sector workers tidying up their places of study and work. The exercise bore echoes of the Soviet-era subbotnik, when 'volunteers' got involved in community service projects on weekends.
Not content to sit back and let the men grab all the European football glory, Kazakhstan's top women's team has made its mark by holding Spain's Barcelona to a draw in the knockout stage of the UEFA Women's Champions League.
Last week, FC Astana made history by becoming the first team from Kazakhstan to gain a point in the Champions League group stage with a 2-2 draw with Turkey's Galatasaray, but the women's team BIIT-Kazygurt, based in Shymkent, southern Kazakhstan, is no stranger to European competition.
The team has been a regular in the knockout stages of the Women's Champions League since the competition was founded in 2009, but has never progressed beyond the round of 32 teams.
BIIK-Kazygurt fielded a cosmopolitan line-up against Barcelona with the teams defensive core hailing from Kazakhstan, and the rest of the team from the United States, Nigeria, Norway, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Barcelona took the lead after 57 minutes before BIIK-Kazygurt's Norwegian star Lisa-Marie Woods got the equaliser after 82 minutes.
Kazakhstan has had a women's football league since 2004, with BIIK-Kazygurt, then based in the commercial capital Almaty and known as Alma-KTZh, a founder member. The team relocated to Shymkent in 2010.
The league now consists of five teams – two from Shymkent, and one apiece from Almaty, Kokshetau and Aktobe. BIIK-Kazygurt were the runaway winners of this years league with a 100 percent record. Next week, the team makes the 4,300-mile trip to Spain for the return leg as it vies with FC Astana to bring European football glory to Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan's celebrations over FC Astana gaining its first Champions League point were cut short by news that its cycling superstar Alexandre Vinokourov could face charges of race-fixing in Belgium.
A Belgian prosecutor has ruled that Vinokourov should stand trial along with Russian rider Alexandr Kolobnev on charges that the two colluded to fix the result of Belgium's Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic in 2010. Vinokourov allegedly paid Kolobnev around $225,000 to let him win the race, Sky Sports reported.
If convicted, both riders could face between six months and three years in jail and fines of between $330,000 and $660,000. Vinokourov and Kolobnev have contested the decision on the basis that the evidence is too flimsy to convict them. The decision whether to bring the case to court will be made by October 15.
The news broke just after FC Astana, playing its first ever home fixture in the Champions League group stages, fought back against Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray to earn a 2-2 draw. The Turkish side scored two own goals to Astana's one in a bizarre match.
FC Astana, along with cycling's Pro Team Astana is part of Kazakhstan's flagship sports project, Astana Presidential Sports Club, which oversees football, cycling and ice hockey teams, as well as ice skaters and boxers. The club is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.
There is going to be a lot of broken hearts in Kazakhstan as the starlet of the volleyball scene, Sabina Altynbekova, is set to fly the nest and ply her trade in Japan, Kazinform reports.
In all the media clamor surrounding Sabina Altynbekova, it is sometimes difficult to remember that is was volleyball that first thrust her into the spotlight. Now the 18-year-old poster girl of Kazakhstani sport is to play for GSS Sunbeams of the V.Challenge Ligue, the second tier of pro volleyball in Japan.
Altynbekova rose to prominence last year while representing Kazakhstan at the Asian Under-19 Championships in Taiwan. Local media went crazy for her looks, likening her to a character from anime, the Japanese take on animation that is hugely popular across Southeast Asia.
The media interest sparked a social networking frenzy across the region. YouTube videos of Altynbekova went viral and she inspired numerous Facebook groups. Her Instagram account boasts nearly 500,000 followers.
Such is her fame in Kazakhstan, and Asia in general, that she was wheeled out as part of Almaty’s bid to win the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at the end of July. But her good looks were not enough to sway the delegates as Almaty narrowly lost out to Beijing in the race.