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.
Kazakhstan's glitzy new capital has been put on Europe's football map as FC Astana overcame Finland's HJK to book a place in the UEFA Champions League play-off round, leaving it two games away from a place in the group stage of Europe's elite club tournament.
The dramatic 4-3 victory over HJK — Astana scored in the third minute of injury time — guarantees the club at least a spot in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League, making the club only the second team from Kazakhstan, after Shakhter Karagandy, to reach this stage.
Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country to play its soccer in Europe. It joined UEFA — the Union of European Football Associations — in 2002 after competing for 10 years in the Asian Football Confederation, where Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan play their international football.
FC Astana was formed in 2008 from the ashes of two defunct clubs from Kazakhstan's commercial hub, Almaty. It was originally known as Lokomotiv Astana and was bankrolled by Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, the national railroad company.
In 2011, it changed its name and was brought under the wing of Samruk-Kazyna, the national sovereign-wealth fund. The injection of cash has seen the club recently invest in young talent such as Ghanaian forward Patrick Twumasi, who scored Astana's opener against HJK, and Serbian midfielder Nemanja Maksimović.
The club's success is a boost for Kazakhstan's image after the blow of losing the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing last week. Sport plays a key role in Kazakhstan's project to promote itself on the international stage.
There was disappointment in Almaty as it lost out to Beijing in the race to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games by a mere four votes.
A 500-strong crowd gathered in the mid-afternoon on July 31 in downtown Almaty's Abai Square greeted the news of their city’s defeat with stony silence. Almaty was the clear underdog, and despite giving a good account of itself, the city failed to tip the balance its way as International Olympic Committee delegates gathered in Kuala Lumpur gave the nod to Beijing by a narrow margin of 44 votes to 40.
The decision is a blow to long-term president Nursultan Nazarbayev's image-making project for Kazakhstan, which had hoped for the spectacle of the Winter Olympics as the crowning glory of the country's rise from impoverished post-Soviet backwater to a dynamic, emerging player on the world stage.
Both Almaty and Kazakhstan have gained a massive publicity boost in the world's media as the bid decision day loomed. Almaty received plaudits from IOC delegates for the quality of its bid. That was a remarkable turnaround as it was tagged a rank outsider only a year ago. At that time, there was another rival contender — Norway's capital Oslo — and Almaty received the lowest scores from the IOC working group in most of the evaluation categories.
For the authorities the Winter Olympics bid was all about putting Kazakhstan on the map. “Of course we're not as famous as other big cities,” the vice-chairman of Almaty's bid, Andrey Kruykov, told the Associated Press. “It's our main task to let everybody know [about Almaty].”
The David and Goliath struggle between Almaty and Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games comes to its conclusion on July 31 as the delegates of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to decide who will win the right to host the Games.