April 9 - A vision to promote a positive image of Kazakhstan has been launched through the Astana Presidential Professional Sports Club, showcased here today.
Estimated to cost more than $100 million (£59.5 million/€72 million) each year, the Club is backed by Kazakhstan's Sovereign Wealth Fund, Samruk-Kazyna, of which Darkhan Kaletayev is managing director.
It consists of a cycling team, the Astana Pro Team; boxing club Astana Arlans; rally raid team Astana Motorsport; basketball club Astana; football and water polo clubs, also called Astana; ice hockey club Barys; and the national wrestling project Kazakhstan Barysy.
Ilya Ilyin, double Olympic weightlifting champion, and Sochi 2014 bronze medallist in figure skating, Denis Ten, the first Kazak skater to win an Olympic medal, are also incorporated in the Club, in which former International Olympic Committee (IOC) marketing director Michael Payne is helping promote as chief strategic advisor.
"Sport in Kazakhstan is growing at all levels," said Kaletayev at the SportAccord International Convention being held here.
"At London 2012 we achieved our best ever performance at an Olympic Games by winning seven gold medals and 13 medals overall.
"The 'Astana' brand has already played a huge role in that success.
"Our cycling team, led by [Alexander] Vinokourov, has had great success and achieved worldwide recognition.
"Bringing together eight teams into one club will benefit all the teams.
"Centralising world-class facilities will allow us to exchange best practices, improve our performances and make the most effective use of our resources.
"Our teams are already well established thanks to a long-standing partnership with Amruk-Kazyna but we are aiming to grow even more.
"In two years we want the club's brand and ambitions to be known globally and we will be looking to attract international partners from big companies investing in Kazakhstan."
The cycling team is, somewhat controversially, led by Vinokourov who in 2007 was banned from cycling for two years after failing a doping test, just a day after winning stage 15 of the Tour de France.
Despite his history as a drugs cheat, Vinokourov insisted he and his team were "400 per cent against doping" claiming he made the "last point" in his cycling career by winning gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
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