Turkmenistan buzzing ahead of Ashgabat 2017
The 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games is just a few days away and the city of Ashgabat is ready to provide a spectacle to behold to the world.
As over 6000 athletes from 65 delegations descend upon the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan, the world will be watching as the young country takes centre stage.
Years have passed from the moment in which the Games were awarded to Ashgabat in 2010. Years and months in which the Turkmen people have been preparing with great enthusiasm and energy as they aim to set new standards for hosting an event of this scale.
It is indeed a momentous occasion, as Central Asia as a whole hosts its biggest ever major multi-sport event: an occasion to pull all the stops and become the new benchmark for future host cities.
An ancient culture, the people of Turkmenistan first came to the world's notice thanks to their age-old practice of weaving carpets in distinctive designs, which made them a big hit with traders who travelled far and wide on the Great Silk Road. Centuries later, Ashgabat 2017 will recall that very spirit of friendship and cooperation that united nations from every corner of the world, as once again this land prepares to host a multitude of faces, languages and cultures.
The artistry of the Turkmen people, reflected both in their unique carpet designs and in the distinctive architecture of their buildings, serves as the inspiration for the country to showcase their cultural heritage to the world.
The old adage "A healthy mind lives in a healthy body" plays a central part of the modern Turkmen lifestyle as the country aims to show the world their rich tradition of sporting passion and healthy living. No occasion would be more appropriate than a triumph on home soil to portray the desire to do their best on the world stage.
The Games embody the future of modern-day Turkmenistan: at this juncture in time, the country aims to form a bridge between its traditions of health, inspiration and friendship using the nation's capital, Ashgabat, to promote this same spirit. But it is also a moment of coming of age for the city and the country, as they announce themselves on the global stage and potentially put their name forward for organising even bigger events.
Leaders help shape the monumental efforts required to organise a competition of this scale. Under the guidance of the Esteemed President, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the Executive Committee translated the willing enthusiasm of thousands into a concrete effort that produced the Games.
The Chairman of the 5th AIMAG Executive Committee summarised the country's efforts through some beautiful words, saying: "Our key focus has been for Ashgabat 2017 to reflect in full the multi-faceted characteristic of the host country. Ashgabat represents an eclectic mix of Turkmenistan’s ancient heritage and its avant-garde architecture and we believe the Games capture this completely. We look forward to bringing them to life.”
As required by such meticulous preparations, the organisers planned and organised events to test the city’s readiness. The programme also included events to mark crucial milestones in the build-up to the Games.
One of these was the "100 Day Countdown" celebration that took place in the city of Mary, showcasing that the nation as a whole was ready for the Games: a bright, colourful exhibition of the country's history and traditions, also featuring speeches by national leaders indicating that Turkmenistan was ready to host the rest of Asia.
Similarly, the "30 Days to Go" occasion was celebrated with great pomp and splendour, with President Berdimuhamedov leading the declaration of readiness. Over 100 journalists, both national and international, were entertained by a display of culture and tradition, with a visit to the Old Nisa fortress, a UNESCO heritage site, part of the event, along with a dazzling fireworks display.
The occasion was also popularised and celebrated in Abu Dhabi by the Embassy of Turkmenistan under the umbrella of the International Abu Dhabi Chess Festival. The discourse revolved around how the Turkmen government was promoting peace through sport, and how the Olympic refugee team would be participating in the Games.
A crucial point for the organisers, however – one that emerged very early as an integral part of the vision for the Games – was the need to involve the Turkmen population. The organisers have priced tickets at a very affordable level to ensure as many people as possible attend the events, with children under the age of 14 getting free entry. Encouraging the new generations to take up sport, as well as presenting them with role models, is a key element in the legacy that will live on way beyond the end of the Games and that will transform the country’s society.
With just a few days to go until the opening ceremony, the Ashgabat Games are ready to live up to those years of expectation. Having passed their event-wide simulation test with flying colours, it is now time for the main show – the one that so strongly captured the imagination of the organisers.
And when the Games start and the top athletes in the continent take to their fields, a Turkmen success will already be on the cards. The First Stars programme created by Ashgabat 2017 to recruit volunteers has been a resounding success. The 8000 recruits, hailing from all over the country, will bring a personal touch to the Games, showing the positive force of their patriotism and making the Games an even bigger spectacle.
As the preparation and hard work done for the Games comes to fruition, all that remains is for the rest of the world to now take a backseat and enjoy the sporting spectacle that Turkmenistan and Ashgabat deliver – both on the competition field and beyond it.