The home opener on a recent Saturday for FC Kairat, Kazakhstan’s most storied football club, featured lots of pre-game pomp, the sort of festivities that tend to swaddle major sporting events around the globe.
Roza Rymbaeva, the country’s best known pop diva, warmed up the spectators with a set of oldies-but-goodies, and, later, sang the national anthem. In between, soldiers marched in formation, team mascots high-fived fans, a falconer showed off his stuff, and youngsters waved a giant parachute-like banner at midfield.
The only thing lacking on the occasion were fans. Attendance for the early March match between Kairat and Zhetysu-Taldykorgan was a paltry 5,000, if that. Kairat’s home -- the 25,000-seat Central Stadium, situated in the heart of Almaty, a city of almost 1.5 million -- felt cold and cavernous at kickoff.
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Justin Burke is the executive editor of Eurasianet.