Kazakhstan’s EXPO-2017: Boxer Golovkin to the Rescue
Kazakhstan’s high-profile world champion boxer, Gennady Golovkin, has been made an ambassador for Astana’s EXPO-2017 in a move to improve the image of the graft-plagued project.
Golovkin, boxing’s undisputed middleweight champion, was anointed as an official ambassador for the international exhibition, which will be held in Astana in 2017, by President Nursultan Nazarbayev during his visit to Washington on March 31.
Golovkin, known as GGG and rated one of the world’s best pound-for-pound boxers, is one of Kazakhstan’s best-known sports exports. He was on the party list for the ruling Nur Otan party in March’s election along with many other celebrities, but did not make the final cutinto parliament. His presence will boost the global image of EXPO-2017, which has been rocked by a huge corruption scandal.
A high-profile trial began in Astana on March 18 with Talgat Yermegiyayev, former chairman of the Astana EXPO-2017 company organizing the exhibition, accused along with 22 others of stealing in excess of 10 billion tenge (US$29 million at the current exchange rates) from the construction funds.
EXPO-2017 has also been landed with budget cuts — with Kazakhstan in the throes of economic crisis, some one-tenth of the originally expected total expenditure of $3 billion has been shaved off the budget.
In August, a new team headed by former Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov was parachuted in to knock the project back into shape. But his leadership has come in for criticism from insiders linked to the project.
In a letter written to Nazarbayev and leaked to the media in February, Juan Correas, an international consultant to the EXPO-2017 project, expressed concern that the new team was working too slowly and failing to organize the exhibition properly.
Correas sent out a chilling warning to the president: "If there is no change of direction, the international image of Kazakhstan will be under threat, and EXPO will be on the brink of failure."
The EXPO-2017 team punched back immediately, accusing Correas of making vague and ill-founded accusations "lacking concrete facts and figures."
Given the scale of the challenge, GGG is going to need all his boxing ring guile to bring this one back on track.