Kazakhstan: Football Star’s Big Bucks Salary Sparks Row
A member of parliament in Kazakhstan has struck a populist note by thundering about the reportedly massive wages being paid to a Russian soccer star recently signed by Almaty’s FC Kairat.
In an intemperate address before parliament on April 18, Muhtar Tinkeyev spoke of the need to develop a sporting culture in Kazakhstan and not to waste money bringing foreign stars to the country. By way of an example, he pointed to FC Kairat’s recent, high-profile signing of Andrei Arshavin.
“Look at Arshavin, they have given him a $1 million contract. Just think, more than $1 million a year. There are foreign players making $30,000 a month. Is this the kind of football we need?” Tinkeyev said in remarks carried in detail by Tengri News. “Why isn’t this money spent on children’s sport? On building courtyard playgrounds?”
Tinkeyev was no more sparing of what he described as the wasteful expense on basketball and hockey.
“Look at the situation with the Barys Atsana hockey team. You have this one Kazakh there, Damir Ryspayev, who only goes onto the ice to get into fights,” he said.
Tinkeyev instead lavished praise on recent sporting events like the Nomad Mixed Martial Arts competition, which wrapped up last week in the city of Karaganda at what Tinkeyev said was of no cost to the state budget.
And the deputy was no less critical of the slovenly behavior he claimed to have seen among overpaid sports stars.
“I was outside a shop near the Baiterek [monument] when five guys in Barys Astana outfits turned up. One of them goes and lets rip this juicy stream of spit. It was a disgraceful sight. Anybody who wears the uniform of Kazakhstan should have to undergo some kind of basic education about what symbols they’re wearing and how they should serve as models for a growing generation, not behave like some courtyard hoodlums, spitting here and there,” Tinkeyev said.
Kairat FC have not taken the broadside lying down.
Decrying what they described as Tinkeyev’s “populist” outburst, the club on April 19 denied any player was paid as much as the deputy had claimed.
“One of the main reasons from bringing Andrei Arshavin to FC Kairat was to do with his great international experience, which will indubitably benefit the club in its European campaigns,” the club said in a statement. “We have already seen results from Arshavin’s arrival in Kazakhstan — attendance at Kairat matches have increased all across the country.”
FC Kairat also reminded Tinkeyev that it is a leading force in developing youth football in Kazakhstan.
“Over the past three years, FC Kairat has built two youth academies of international standards and introduced a uniform training system,” the club said.
As well as having evidently not acquainted himself very well with the subject of his tirade, Tinkeyev was probably unwise to pick on FC Kairat. The team is backed by well-connected gas tycoon Kairat Boranbayev, whose daughter Alima is married to Aysultan Nazarbayev, the grandson of President Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Attempts by aging political figures in Kazakhstan to strike man of the people poses inevitably tend to go wrong.
Nazarbayev called recently for the people of Kazakhstan to make do without such self-indulgent fripperies as lemons as a way of battling through the economic crisis. Some weeks later, he dropped by the newly opened Carrefour supermarket and made himself object of much ridicule for his apparent ignorance about the cost of basic groceries.
Also, this was probably not the best time for members of parliament to give lectures about profligacy. It was red faces all around last week when local media reported that the legislature’s management published an expression of interest in buying 11,000 bottles of wine, vodka, cognac, champagne and whisky. Officials later scrambled to limit the fallout of the story, claiming that the figure was published in error and that they are only looking to buy a meager 519 bottles of various alcoholic drinks at a total of $6,000.
Other reported planned purchases by parliament include 500 kilograms of carp, 850 kilograms of salmon, 50 kilograms of honey, 500 kilograms of watermelons, 300 liters of syrup and 140 kilograms of yeast.
But the deputies of Kazakhstan are nothing if not shameless. Only one day after implying that the hockey players of Barys Astana were little better than petty gangsters, Tinkeyev dropped in on the team’s training facilities to shower them in praise.
“I am deeply struck by what I have seen,” Tinkeyev said, swallowing hard on mouthfuls of crow. “What was impressive was the number of children in the Barys school. They told me it was more than 600, and they are all studying for free.”
Peter Leonard is Eurasianet’s Central Asia editor.