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Football in Kazakhstan: A Tale of Two Cities

Astana, written in Cyrillic characters, is emblazoned across the corner seats of empty Kazhymukan Munaitpasov Stadium, which opened in 1938 and served as a 50-year home to a team that was renamed six times before finishing life as FC Astana-1964. Once a football powerhouse in newly independent Kazakhstan, the club fell on hard times in 2009, the same year the Kazakh capital welcomed in another part of the city a new professional football team now called FC Astana. (Photo: Chris Rickleton)

A spring gust whips dust across the surface of the running track at the Kazhymukan Munaitpasov Stadium in Astana, but the football team that called the ground its home for decades before the city became Kazakhstan’s capital in 1997 is unlikely to flower again.
 
The club that began life as Dynamo Tselinograd in 1964 and ended it as FC Astana-1964 in 2014 was condemned to oblivion by debt and a lack of interest from the city administration that had maintained it in the twilight of its existence.
 
But hardcore fans of the club, which played its football in the older, more Soviet-looking half of the 900,000-strong city, attribute their club’s demise instead to the emergence in 2009 of a new project enjoying backing from top government officials.
 
A 25-minute drive from the 12,000-seater Munaitpasov Stadium, across the Ishym River that divides the city’s old and new sections, is the 30,000-capacity Astana Arena. The new stadium cost $185 million to build and was inaugurated with a symbolic kick of a football by President Nursultan Nazarbayev himself. 
 

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Chris Rickleton is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.

Football in Kazakhstan: A Tale of Two Cities

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