On September 20, thousands of Turkmen state employees and students were ushered to Ashgabat stadium for the kickoff of Turkmenistan's President's Cup
, an annual international football tournament. The soccer fans, clad in their sports uniforms and present in their seats, waited and then waited some more. The match never began.
State employees in Turkmenistan are obliged to purchase sports uniforms for sporting events at their own expense when they enroll in public school or begin working in the public sector. Their work supervisor or professor serves as their team leader at each football game and is in charge of the cheering protocol and rules.
According to an RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent who was present at the match on September 20, the thousands of fans who showed up at the Ashgabat stadium, designed to hold 20,000 people, did not see a match. According to this advertisement found in the Turkmen state newspaper (see image below), the opening game between Armenia and Kyrgyzstan was supposed to start at 3 p.m. local time.
Instead, what RFE/RL's correspondent and thousands of fans witnessed was a rehearsal of the opening ceremony and instructions on proper cheering protocol.
"When the president appears in the stadium, everyone will stand up and say the following, 'My beloved country Turkmenistan and glory to the Protector.' Let's practice it!" an announcer said.
The crowd was then given instructions to abstain from whistling and clap instead.
On top of it all, instead of yelling out the seemingly universal, globally agreed-upon exclamation of "goal" (for reference see here
), the announcer advised the soccer fans to instead scream out a Turkmen word.
"Whenever a team scores a goal, you will not say 'goal' but 'utuk,'" he said.
As RFE/RL's correspondent reports, the match between Armenia and Kyrgyzstan was televised on September 21 on Turkmen state television. RFE/RL could not confirm the location and the time of the televised match.
However, at the "match that never was" on September 20 rumors circulated that the reason the game was not held was because Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov was on an official trip to Turkmenistan's Lebap Province.
No pain, no gain -- or in this case, no president, no game.
-- Deana Kjuka & RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
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