Kazakhstan: Counting the Costs of Astana Sports Project
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.
Despite the economic crisis engulfing Kazakhstan at the moment, the funding for this sports project appears to be protected. Sporting success on the international stage, as enjoyed by the cycling team in events such as the Tour de France and FC Astana in the football arena, is seen by Astana as a way of promoting its brand to a wider audience.
The brand is set to get more promotion in cycling next season as Astana received a boost on November 9 when it was given the green light to compete in cycling's top events in 2016. It was taken off a watchlist for doping offenses following the successful outcome of an extensive four-month monitoring last season.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.