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Why Do Some Kazakhs Say: ‘God, Save Kazakhstan From Its Government’? – OpEd

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The Wall Street Journal, in an article entitled ‘Arena Ball – Back Before You Knew It Was Gone’ and published on April 15, 2009, said: “No talent? No problem. Kazakhstan is hiring. Kazakhstan is the latest post-Soviet state determined to become a tennis powerhouse, but there’s just problem: a lack of decent Kazakhstani players”. So then, the country’s tennis federation began hiring promising athletes of other nationalities. These were mainly Russian tennis players.

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To illustrate the kind of a situation that has existed since then, we may consider the following excerpt from a NewsUnrolled article by Regina: “Changing citizenship in tennis is easy. Unlike many other sports, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) does not require athletes to be quarantined… Kazakhstan has been hosting Russian tennis players since 2008… In Davis Cup and Billie-Jean King Cup, only local tennis player Zarina Diyas is in Kazakhstan’s national teams. Yes, and she took tennis lessons in Prague, where her family has been working since 1999. Diyas was even called up to the Czech national team. All other Cossacks are former Russians and a few people from other republics of the former Soviet Union”. In the Central Asian country, the practice of attracting promising tennis players of other nationalities has lasted all these years. And recently one of them, Moscow-born Elena Rybakina, has become the first player representing Kazakhstan to win a Grand Slam singles title.

It seems relying on foreign athletes is beginning to live up to expectation. And not just at tennis. Kenyan-born Norah Jeruto, who had begun representing Kazakhstan just six months ago, on 30 January, won Kazakhstan’s first world title in women’s 3000m steeplechase on July 20, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon. It would seem that something remarkable happened Kazakhs should be quite happy about. Yet actually, they do not appear very enthusiastic.

Business Online, in an article published on July 24, said the following on the matter: “Not everyone in the country is happy with Kenyan-born Jeruto’s victory at the World Athletics Championships [in Eugene, Oregon] and Moscow-born Rybakina’s Wimbledon triumph. In a group of social networking, ‘Novyi Kazakhstan / Zhana Kazakstan’, which is popular in Kazakhstan, Jeruto’s victory under the Kazakh flag became topic #1. The majority [of those commenting] are clearly not thrilled to see the Kazakh athletics team being represented by ‘non-native’ Kazakhstanis. And this is in spite of the fact that their black fellow citizen brought the country a real victory for the first time [at the World Athletics Championships]. ‘Kazakhstan has money for Africans.  But when it comes to a need to lower the retirement age, immediately it appears there is no money in the budget. God save Kazakhstan from its Government’, [some] commentators write. Discussants are obviously offended by the fact that there are almost no ethnic Kazakhs represented in the team”.

Well, this seems not be the sole example of this kind. In Astana Qazaqstan, a professional road bicycle racing team sponsored by the Samruk-Kazyna, a coalition of state-owned companies from Kazakhstan and named after its capital city Astana (which has since been renamed ‘Nur-Sultan’), there is only one ethnic Kazakh among its 29 riders. There are many more such cases. A long ago it became clear that excessive participation of foreign athletes in the Kazakhstani national teams and sports clubs does not help the development of Kazakh sports, but hampers it. Nobody can deny that. The Kazakh authorities and society have agreed that such a situation is abnormal and requires correction by joint actions, but no real measures have been taken to remedy it. It seems that not so long ago, official Nur-Sultan had some sort of an action plan on this matter. And it now appears that there are just basically empty promises from politicians and officials. People are strongly annoyed with this.

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