Hosting an international sports event seems to be something of a status symbol in Central Asia. Uzbekistan hosted the President’s Cup tennis tournament from 1997-2002, which did draw some big names in the tennis world such as Tim Henman, Marat Safin, and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Kazakhstan hosted the 2013 World Boxing Championship last November and Almaty, which did host the Asian Winter Games in 2011, is bidding for the Winter Olympic Games in 2022 (in the early 1990s Tashkent contemplated a bid for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games).
Ashgabat will never host the Olympics -- it’s 50 degrees Celsius in the summer and, although it did just snow in Turkmenistan a few weeks ago, the conditions really don’t exist there for winter sports on an international level.
But windsurfing is apparently a different story. The pro-government website Turkmenistan.ru reported on February 28 that Turkmenistan’s Caspian Sea resort area Awaza has been chosen by the Professional Windsurfing Association as one of the venues for the months-long, 15-stage Windsurfing 2014 World Cup.
It sounded crazy to me and given the source of the information I figured I’d better investigate this further.
Sure enough, according to the Professional Windsurfing Association’s website, www.pwaworldtour.com the “Awaza PWA World Cup Turkmenistan” competition is scheduled to take place from July 1 to July 6. That’s after the competition at Magarita Island, in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela, and just before nearly a month of competitions at three of the Canary Islands.
But seriously, Awaza?
The list of venues for the PWA 2014 World Cup also includes Costa Brava, Bonaire (Netherlands Antilles), Alacati (Turkey), Maui (Hawaii), New Zealand, and Chile.
It turns out the announcement came from Erol Tabaja, the head of Turkish company Polimeks. Tabaja reached the agreement with the PWA, a gesture of gratitude no doubt for Turkmenistan’s government awarding Polimeks billions of dollars in construction contracts, including deals to build the new Ashgabat airport and the “Yelken Yacht Club” at Awaza.
Turkmenistan.ru says some 100 windsurfers from more than 40 countries will participate “and also a large group of representatives of foreign media” will be on hand to cover the competition.
That might already give the PWA event the record for the most visas issued to any group by Turkmen authorities.
And to follow that thought, there was the question why isolationist Turkmenistan would even want to hold an international sports event, regional prestige reasons aside.
It occurred to me that windsurfing is actually a perfect event for Turkmenistan to host.
There’s an airport at Turkmenbashi City, near Awaza, so none of the foreign guests will ever see much of Turkmenistan. The “Yelken Yacht Club,” with gates behind it to keep out Turkmenistan’s citizens, has been operating for a couple of years now and will be the viewing area for guests and media. The athletes won’t even be on Turkmen soil when they are competing.
It is sort of like being in Turkmenistan but not really being there.
I will not be there (for some reason I can never get a visa to Turkmenistan), but according to Turkmenistan.ru the event will be available live on the Internet.
There was no mention of any Turkmen competitors taking part in the event, but something tells me there will be more than a few pictures of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov riding a windsurfing board before the cup leaves Awaza.