Friday, January 14, 2011

The Olympics debut in Post Soviet nation

Coming to Kazakhstan. Fireworks are seen during the opening ceremony of the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, 12 November 2010. |EPA/ALEX HOFFORD ALEX HOFFORD

The 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow were the first to be hosted in Eastern Europe. 

Sadly the games are remembered primarily for the boycott by the USA and athletes from 64 other nations in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 

But the world turns, and on January 30th the first Olympic events to be held on post-Soviet territory will take place as the 7th Asian Winter Games (ASIAD) begin in Kazakhstan. 

The games first took place in 1986, under the auspices of the Asian Olympic Committee, which currently has 45 member states. The six previous games have all been held in Japan, China and South Korea, the three most developed nations in the region, but the emergence of Kazakhstan as the strongest economy in Central Asia makes the nation an appropriate host for this important Olympic event. 
The games have required enormous investment and preparation, and will take place at seven modern venues. 

In excess of $700 million has been paid from the state budget, whilst the Olympic village has been financed by private investors. 
Overall, Kazakhstan has spent over $1 billion in preparation for the games.

A newly constructed international ski jumping complex is located in the foothills above the Al-Farabi Avenue in close proximity to the Yessentai River and Kazakhstan's largest university. It is hoped that the complex, which was constructed in such a way as to have minimal impact on the local environment, will become a major international sporting venue after this year's games. 

Major sporting events, such as the Olympics, the World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games are more than just an opportunity for a nation to showcase itself, although the coincidence of Kazakhstan hosting the 7th ASIAD immediately after the nation steps down from its Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will serve to keep the nation on the global stage. Such events also bring the opportunity for much needed investment in sporting facilities, and in national infrastructure. 

It is also an opportunity to address environmental issues, as is very much the case with the preparations for the 2012 London Olympics, where large areas of polluted land have been cleaned up. Kazakhstan is, of course, a nation that inherited significant environmental problems from the Soviet era, but which it is striving to address. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has acknowledged the importance of solving these problems, saying "We must strive to encourage East and West not only to move towards each other but also to encourage them to find a new philosophy, a philosophy which will serve as a tool determining the future of Planet Earth - our common and only shelter."
Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee, and the father of the modern Olympic Games stated "It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.” Whilst ASIAD may not yet be a household name in many western nations, its benefits will be felt by millions of Kazakhs.

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