Türkmenistan target Asian Games as hopes to shed "best kept secret" tag

Friday, 29 November 2013
By Duncan Mackay at the Türkmenistan National Institute for Sport and Tourism in Ashgabat

National Olympic Committee of Türkmenistan secretary general Azat Murdov has outlined the country's plans to bid for major events ©TISMFNovember 29 - Türkmenistan is set to be the latest petro-gas rich country hoping to use sport to put itself on the world map with an ambitious plan to stage a number of major events, including the 2023 Asian Games, which they hope will be a stepping-stone to hosting the Olympics and Paralympics.

Jon Tibbs, chairman of Jon Tibbs Associates, who are working with the Türkmenistan Government, described the country as the "best kept secret in world sport".

A $5 billion (£3.5 billion/€4 billion) Olympic Complex is already being built here in the capital and will be the centre for the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games which will feature 17 sports with more than 5,000 competitors from 62 countries, including Australia after the Oceania region was invited to take part. 

"Türkmenistan is a fast growing developing country and the Government pays great attention to sport," said Azat Murdov, secretary general of the National Olympic Committee of Türkmenistan.

"After 2017 we have a vision to host big likes, like the Asian Games and the Youth Olympic Games.

"The final destination for us is the Olympic Games.

"But first we have to gain experience."

The Ashgabat Olympic Complex is hoping one day to host some of the world's major events ©PolimeksThe Ashgabat Olympic Complex is hoping one day to host some of the world's major events ©Polimeks

Ashgabat's Olympic Complex, which has been designed with the help of London-based consultants Arup and built by Turkish firm Polimeks, is made up of 15 venues, including two indoor arenas, a velodrome, an indoor athletics facility, tennis centre and an aquatic centre.

An athletes' village is also being built, and is set to contain 12,000 beds once completed.

Already 400,000 kilometres of cabling has been laid under the complex and the 800-room luxury media hotel is already 80 per cent complete.

"The Olympic Complex is a purpose built area with modern, state-of-the-art facilities which athletes will look forward to performing in, in 2017," said Osman Karaku, project coordinator for the scheme.

"Rapid developments in construction mean that the area will be completely ready well ahead of Ashgabat hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games."

The ambitions of the country were revealed during the Türkmenistan International Sports Media Forum, an event designed to showcase the facilities to the foreign press.

It was a remarkable occasion as last year, according to Reporters Without Borders' 2012 World Press Freedom Index, Türkmenistan had the second worst press freedom conditions in the world behind North Korea.

But under President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow the country is slowly beginning to throw off its shackles.

The Türkmenistan International Sports Media Forum was a groundbreaking event for a country where press freedom is still an issue ©TISMFThe Türkmenistan International Sports Media Forum was a groundbreaking event for a country where press freedom is still an issue ©TISMF

Türkmenistan made their debut at the Olympics at Atlanta in 1996 following the break-up of the Soviet Union but have yet to win a medal. 

They have appeared at every Asian Games since Hiroshima 1994 winning a total of 14 medals, including three gold.

The country's football team, meanwhile, is ranked 137th in the world by FIFA.

But its ambitions appear unlimited, boosted by possessing the world's fourth largest reserves of natural gas resources behind Iran, Russia and Qatar, who have been awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

"This has been a much-anticipated project as everybody looks ahead to the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in 2017," said Batyr Orazov, chairman of the State Committee of Türkmenistan for Sport. 

"But this development will serve for much longer than these Games - we hope to host many future international sporting events here.

"The building of Ashgabat's Olympic Complex is just the beginning for hosting international sport in Türkmenistan."

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