Kazakhstan: Flagship Sport Project Suffers a Strain
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.
In November 2015, the extent of the cash being thrown at the project was revealed for the first time. The biggest recipient of cash from the coffers of Samruk-Kazyna, some $45 million per year, was FC Astana, which reached the group stages of this year’s UEFA Champions League. Barys hockey club, with $40 million, and the Astana Pro Team cyclists, with $18 million, were also major recipients of the state’s largesse.
At least boxer Gennady Golovkin and weightlifter Ilya Ilyin do not need to worry too much if the funding dries up completely — both have been included on the party list for the ruling Nur Otan party in Kazakhstan’s parliamentary election on March 20, making the pair shoo-ins for a cushy job in the legislature.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.