Eye on Kazakhstan: A nation dreams big in football
After our first episode on Poland in Sportskeeda’s brand new series on young and developing football nations, we turn our attention to a Central Asian giant that has the potential to be one of the underdogs in international football in the next decade or so.
Kazakhstan is a young and vibrant country that relies heavily on its abundant natural resources to drive a demanding and booming economy at the heart of the so called old ‘silk route’. Just as oil and natural gas are integral factors in the Kazakh economy, football is the passion of a nation of 15 million people. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kazakhs have maintained a strong relationship with Russia and the Central Asian republic is one of the few countries that have progressed remarkably since the break up of theUnion. With an average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of around nine percent in the past five years, Kazakhstan is the largest and the fastest growing economy in Central Asia.
Kazakhstan is a regional giant – not only by its enormous country size which is eight times as big as Germany, but also by its economic power. Of all members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Kazakhstan attracts the most foreign direct investment.
“In order for us to present a new Kazakhstan in a new world in ten years, we must meet the challenges of modern times in an adequate and timely fashion. History provided ample evidence of what happens when people demonstrate that, working together towards a common goal, they are capable of lifting themselves to a new level of development. Achieving our goals will mean that we must redouble our efforts, and in many cases we shall need to adopt new and unfamiliar approaches in all our government agencies and businesses, as well as in our scientific and expert communities.” – H.E. Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
President Nazarbayev has made it a national priority to develop Kazakh football and sport in general. Kazakhstan, since its independence in 1991, was affiliated to the Asian Football Confederation before switching over to UEFA in 2002 and the progress has been steady under the proper supervision of the European football authority. As part of the Kazakh territory falls inEuropethe Football Federation of Kazakhstan applied to be affiliated into UEFA and on the basis of a thorough inspection on the country’s potential investments towards the development of football in the country, the world’s ninth biggest country became a full UEFA member in April 2002 at the UEFA Congress in Stockholm.
Football dreams coincide with rapid economic growth
With vast oil and natural gas reserves Kazakhstan is one of the leading energy players in the world. Foreign direct investments have been on the rise since the country successfully withstood the ripples and crisis of the break up of the Soviet Union and with an organized market economy in place, this Central Asian Republic is now considered to be one of the ‘Asian Tigers’ as far as economic development is concerned. With a modern infrastructure in place and the construction sector across the country enjoying a remarkable boom, Kazakhstan would be the biggest Central Asian story in the coming decades.
As the economy grows so is the ambition of the country’s football chiefs and in particular the President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Mr. Nazarbayev is one of the longest running leaders in the world and under him the country has emerged from an agrarian medieval Kazakh society to a brand new, vibrant, economically and scientifically viable modern Kazakh society that now prides itself to be a role model for many of the former Soviet states, whether they are in Central Asia or the Caucasus or in Europe.
Football in the country transformed itself just as the nation did over the past ten years. In 1998, Astana became the new capital of a new emerging nation and the capital city’s meteoric transformation in the last twelve years defies the logic of modern development. The city of Astana is growing, changing, gaining power and enhancing its international prestige and reputation, becoming the symbol of the rapid development and renovation of Kazakhstan as a whole. Coinciding with the change of capital from southern Almaty to northern Astana was the change of football aspirations of the country. Kazakhstan chose to compete in the tougher environments of European football rather than the Asian one in a bid to improve the standard of football in the former Soviet state. Although affiliation to UEFA has proved to be a tougher choice for the Kazakhs given the competition on hand yet according to football pundits the country’s image as a rising football power is set to take an upward stride in the coming years as UEFA and the Football Federation of Kazakhstan join hands to develop grass root football and the infrastructure involved with it.
“They want to qualify for the World Cup. I told them it cannot happen but things are moving at such a pace in their country they believe everything is possible.” – Arno Pijpers, former Kazakhstan national football coach.
These were the words of Dutchman Arno Pijpers who had the pleasure to watch the development and running of the country’s football system during his tenure as the national coach from 2006 to 2008. Although the federation’s impatience robbed Pijpers of his lucrative job yet the former Estonia manager was both optimistic and at the same time skeptical of the Kazakh way of football administration. Mr. Pijpers agrees the fact that with huge sums of money in hand it is a matter of time when the country produces some of the best talents in world football through a highly rated football infrastructure system but the million dollar question is do the Kazakh football chiefs and President Nazarbayev have necessary patience to accomplish such a great task? Only Kazakhstan can provide the world with an answer.