Kazakhstan proving its worth to Olympics

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

By Katelyn Peer in Astana, Kazakhstan CBC Sports

Kazakhstan proving its worth to OlympicsThose in the world of winter sports have already started to associate the year 2014 with Sochi, Russia. Rightfully so. The Black Sea resort town will host the Winter Olympics that year.

Sochi has been and will be in the news plenty in the next few years, so — given my current location — I feel it appropriate to look into a country that isn’t quite at Russia’s level on the international sporting stage. Yet.

Kazakhstan submitted its own bid for the 2014 Games, which it wanted to hold in Almaty, the country’s major commercial centre. That obviously didn’t happen. One of the knocks against Almaty was that the city and country had no experience in hosting a major international sporting event.

Enter the Asian Winter Games.

Five years ago, Kazakhstan was selected to host this event. Sure, it’s not the Olympics but it’s still an excellent opportunity for the nation.

Many athletes and Asian countries place almost equal significance on these Games as they do on the Olympics. This event is like the younger sibling to the Olympics, actually. The Olympic rings are used on flags and signs all around the city, and the Asian Games were actually founded by the Olympic Council of Asia.

If that’s not enough to give this event an Olympic feel, then consider the opening ceremony.

I did not attend the Vancouver Olympics opening ceremony, but at the Kazakhstan ceremony I sat beside a colleague who did. He thought the two were on par. I believe it.

It was three hours of visual spectacle, culture and celebration of sport. And it was extremely impressive (plus, no equipment malfunctions!).

Also of note were the people in attendance. Apart from the 30,000 excited Kazakhs and athletes from over 20 nations, the president of the Olympic Council of Asia was there, along with the president of Kazakhstan and the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge.

Earning respect

If that guest list isn’t a sign that Kazakhstan is on the Olympic radar, then maybe this is: reports this week said Kazakhstan is considering throwing in a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The organizers and government know that this week is their chance to impress. The government and private investors have pumped over $1 billion US into new venues, improving their airports and the athletes’ village amongst other costs.

A lot of people have worked very hard to ensure that Kazakhstan earns the respect of Olympic committees and that these Games are a success.

Not to mention the success the country hopes Kazakh athletes will have. The national Olympic committee believes the home country could win as many as 23 gold medals. By the way, they are more than halfway to that goal just a few days into the Games.

Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev is a huge sports fan — he came to watch the Kazakh men’s hockey team play China — and would like Kazakhstan to improve its international status through sports.

Having a cycling team that includes Tour de France champion Alberto Contador based in Astana is a start. Hosting an organizationally successful and athletically golden Asian Winter Games in two large Kazakh cities would be another huge step.

Seeing “2022 Almaty/Astana” on Winter Olympic signs and clothing? That’s a goal that’s becoming more and more realistic every day.