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Free Skating in Almaty, Rok

18 Nov

OK, so we take it all back – there is some good value to be had In Kazakhstan after all. Halyk Arena opened its doors this week, offering free ice skating to Almatinians until the end of the year.

Back in 2011 this very blog berated Kazakhstan for being a rip-off, but now we’ve been forced to reassess that opinion as free skating arrives in its commercial capital, Almaty.

Skating fans should head for the 3,000 capacity Halyk Arena, one of the main venues for next January’s Winter Student Games, or Universiade (The Olympics for university students) in Almaty, to take advantage of a freebie spin on the ice.

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Sunkar, the games’ mascot, gets ready to take to the ice at the Halyk Arena 

 

The newly-built facility was launched this week and is Kazakhstan’s first sports facility to have struck a naming rights deal. The nation’s biggest bank, Halyk Bank, has paid an undisclosed fee for the right to have its name attached to the stadium for three years.

One of the aims of holding the games is to promote winter sports among the population, so it was good to see loads of kids joining Sunkar, the mascot of the Almaty games, on the ice at the arena opened its doors earlier this week.

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Sunkar and his young friends on the ice

The free skating offer is on Friday evenings (20.00-22.00), and all day on Saturday and Sunday and runs until 31 December. Skates can be hired, for a fee, at the rink.

The Universiade starts on 28 January and runs until 8 February. Halyk Arena will host the Men’s Ice Hockey tournament.

Astana Cycling Team Snatches Victory in Italy

30 May

The cash for the grand Astana sports project may be drying up, but the cycling team is not out yet as it pedalled to victory in the Giro d’Italia for the third time on 29 May.

Team Astana’s Vincente Nibali put in a plucky performance over the last few days, helped in no small part by long-term race leader Steven Kruijswijk’s crash at the start of the descent of the Coll dell’Agnello in stage 19 of the 21-stage race.

Nibali won the Giro for Astana in 2013, adding to Alberto Contador’s victory in 2008, but with the cash for the project drying up, as falls in the oil price have hit Kazakhstan’s coffers, Nibali could be on his way to join a new start-up cycling outfit in Bahrain.

Nibali rides next in the Tour de France in July, but is insistent that he will play second fiddle to Astana team leader Fabio Aru. Nibali is also targeting the Rio Olympics.

If the two-times Giro winner does pack his bags for the Gulf, then the cash-strapped Astana team will perhaps look to signing cycling wunderkind Peter Sagan on a miserly $4.5 million per year contract.

 

Kazakhstan Hands Wooden Spoon to Latvia

13 Oct

Kazakhstan pulled off a sensational victory in Riga last night to condemn Latvia to last place in their UEFA 2016  European Championship qualifying group.

Islambek Kuat’s 65th-minute goal was enough to see off the Latvians and ensure that Kazakhstan edged their former Soviet Union rivals on goal difference in Group A. The win was Kazakhstan’s first in this round of qualification matches and means it avoided the wooden spoon which is now in Latvia’s hands.

The Czech Republic headed the group followed by Iceland. Turkey also qualified for the finals in France next summer as the best third-placed  team. The Netherlands could only finish fourth in the group and will not be going to the finals.

The win comes at a time when Kazakhstan’s all-powerful Nazarbayev clan are sniffing around the national football federation. President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s grandson, Aisultan Nazarbayev, made his case for the top job in football in Kazakhstan in an interview with to Sports.kz last week citing his extensive soccer experience.

Aisultan Nazarbayev, the son of the president’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva and Rakhat Aliyev, who committed suicide  in an Austrian prison cell earlier this year while on remand facing murder and kidnapping charges.  Aliyev was a former head of Kazakhstan’s football federation so Aisultan Nazarbayev would be following in his father’s footsteps if he gets the nod for the job.

Turkmenistan: The President who just keeps on winning

25 Sep

Kazaxia has received a dispatch from the future looking at the continuing sporting prowess of Turkmenistan’s very long-term potentate Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan – August 9, 2030 – With the first week of the 2030 Olympic Games in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat already over, the country’s all-powerful President has stunned the sporting world by single-handedly heading the medal table. Still more remarkable, the 73-year-old Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov wasn’t even a declared athlete and is half a century older than most of his competitors.
With gold medals already in a slew of equestrian and motor racing events, Berdimuhamedov appears also set to win gold in archery, shooting and swimming events. He only took part in these events on the spur of the moment at the insistence of the ecstatic crowds.
Yet the ever-modest president is dismissing the adulation his success has won him, particularly with the home crowds. ‘My competitors have put up a good fight and I have to applaud their wisdom in the way they competed,’ he told television audiences during a four-hour speech from the medal podium. The speech was followed by a four-hour ovation.
Track record
Berdimuhamedov’s sporting success appears to have begun soon after he became president of his gas-rich state back in 2007.
In April 2012, in one of his early notable successes, he came first in a time-trial challenge racing a Turkish-build Volkicar he was not even scheduled to be competing in. ‘While an event presenter introduced the president,’ The Associated Press reported, ‘he received a request nobody in Turkmenistan would be likely turn down. “Can I take part?” Berdimuhamedov asked.’
The president even took in his stride being thrown from his horse just after crossing the winning line in a famous horse-racing victory in April 2013. It turned out the 150 men in black suits who immediately ran to his assistance from all over the racing track were not needed as the president returned to claim his prize.
And as he won the 2015 Alfa Romeo cup, the state news agency reported breathlessly: ‘The cars fly, engines roar, the distance between them gets shorter and lengthens again on the bend, but then the Alfa Romeo No. 7 breaks away from its nearest pursuers and rushes forward, to victory!’
The 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games saw the President sweep the medals board, again to tumultuous applause from an audience that could barely contain its excitement as long as the cameras rolled.
The Turkmen state media were similarly ecstatic over Berdimuhamedov’s victory at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Andorra, and the 2021 Darts World Cup. A victory in the Scrabble Champions Tournament the same year was assured after a tense final, with the winning word ‘Arkadag’.

 

Almaty Wheels out Big Guns for Winter Olympics Bid

29 Jul

In the final push for the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, Almaty has unveiled its secret weapons to wow the International Olympic Committee – figure skater Denis Ten and …. volleyball player Sabina Altynbekova.

As the delegates gather in Kuala Lumpur ahead of the vote on 31 July, Almaty is pulling out all the stops in its fight to the death with Beijing to host the games. Denis Ten won bronze at Sochi in 2014 in the figure skating and has been a fixture of the city’s bid.

Volleyball starlet Sabina Altynbekova.is not such an obvious choice to promote the bid to host the world’s premier winter sports spectacle. However, she is famous in Kazakhstan and beyond for her looks as well as her abilities on the volleyball court.

She rose to prominence last year at the Asian Under-19 Championships in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. Her looks prompted hysteria with a Taiwan newspaper giving over 10 pages to photos of the 18-year-old and depictions of her as an anime character.

Some observers have suggested that a new event –  ice volley – could be included on the list if Almaty’s bid is successful. Apparently,this ancient sport can be traced back to the times when the Scythians roamed the Eurasian steppe.

 

Kazakhstan: Kairat Face Troublesome Trip to Scotland in Europa League Draw

24 Jun

Almaty’s FC Kairat could face a gruelling 11,000 km roundtrip to Scotland after the draw was made for the Europa League qualifiers on 22 June.

If Kairat can overcome Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade over two legs, then a trip to the land of whisky and deep-fried Mars bars might be on the cards if St Johnstone can beat Armenia’s Aleshkert FC.

Kairat will be following in the footsteps of Shakhter Karagandy who made the trip to Scotland in 2013 to play Glasgow’s Celtic, only to lose 3-0. The result meant the miners lost 3-2 on aggregate. The defeat was blamed on UEFA’s ban on pre-match sheep sacrificing. Shakhter had slaughtered a shaggy black ram ahead of the first leg in Astana.

Almaty taxi driver and Kairat supporter, Samat, was confused when asked by kazaxia about the potential trip to Scotland. “Where’s that then?” he asked. “I’ve heard of England and Holland but what’s this Scotland?”

Many in Kazakhstan confuse what they refer to as the ‘lands’ – England, Holland, Scotland, Ireland, Finland, Poland, Iceland, Switzerland, Swaziland, Thailand and Greenland.

Kokpar Scandal Rocks World Nomad Games

12 Sep

The first edition of the World Nomad Games, currently being held in Kyrgyzstan, have been rocked by scandal as Kazakhstan refused to send a team to compete in kokpar, the fast and furious horseback sport akin to polo but played with a headless goat carcass.

Its absence will be felt at these games as last September Kazakhstan became the first ever Asian champions of the sport when it defeated fierce rivals Kyrgyzstan 4-2 in the final held in Kazakhstan’s snazzy capital Astana.

kazaxia took to twitter to determine why Kazakhstan hadn’t sent a team to the games in Kyrgyzstan. One observer, Edil Baisalov, noted that the Kazakhs “insist on a different set of rules” which they claim were “adopted at the Asian championship in Astana last year”.

The other countries disagreed with this version of events, Baisalov added.

Kokpar,  better known as ‘buzkashi’ in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, is not a sport traditionally hidebound by rules.  In the past kokpar games were a free-for-all that could last for hours.

Now, seeking to appeal to a wider audience and the television market, there have been suggestions that the sport be regulated with two 45-minute halves and restrictions on team sizes.

The version played in Afghanistan has been suggested as an international model with rules developed by the Afghan Olympic Federation. These rules suggest that:

For championship Buzkashi in Kabul, teams are limited to ten riders each. Five players take the field during the first 45 minutes of play; the other five compete during the second period. A field master presides over the match and has the authority to prolong the game and grant permission for a change of riders or horses. The halftime break lasts for 15 minutes.

The World Nomad Games, being held in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, by the shores of Lake Issyk Kul, brings together competitors from countries with a nomadic tradition for a six-day festival of traditional sports. The games culminate on 14 September.

Besides kokpar, the sports include horse races, wrestling on horse back, contact sports based on wrestling, eagle hunting, and the more cerebral ordo, and toguz korgool, a board game related to mankala.  For more information on these sports, check out here.