21.02.2022, 15:44
Фархад Касенов

Norway as a model for Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan went dry at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Our team just went to the Olympics, according to the principle, the main thing is not to win, but to participate. Upon his return, Abzal Azhgaliyev, the flag bearer of the team and the only one who could reach fourth place, said that there are no conditions for athletes in our country, confirming this with hard facts.

Фотография с открытых источников

The rest of the athletes, both beginners and honored masters, on average were in the top tens or thirties maximum, which does not allow us to fully speak about the country's Olympic ambitions.

This raises a logical question about the reasons for our failures in big-time sports, because last year's Summer Olympics were also a failure for the country. It is clear that sports functionaries have already shifted all responsibility on our athletes, they say, they have no fortitude and patriotism, but there is every reason to believe that this is far from being the case.

Methodical sports training, especially at the Olympic level, is impossible without great internal motivation, and for every Kazakhstani Olympian who grew up here, everything is very clear. It is an athlete's cherished dream to see the blue flag with an eagle raised at the most important international competitions, and therefore they do everything possible and impossible. The question of the patriotism of the Olympians born in Kazakhstan, it seems, is unnecessary to raise, since they have proved their sacrifice and desire for victory for all thirty years of independence.

Our athletes perceive their performances as the last fight, and go to it, sacrificing not just their free time and strength, but also their health. Hence the severe injuries of our athletes when they try to do the impossible, and psychological breakdowns leading to deep depression. So, it was precisely because of injuries that the most talented figure skater Elizabet Tursunbaeva, who turned only 22 years old in February, ended her career ahead of schedule.

Another question is how many Olympic-level athletes have been trained in the country, or, in other words, how long our "bench" is. After all, it is she who secures our position in every sport, especially in the winter games, which require huge technical and human resources. The number of potential champions who can win tickets to the Olympic Games shows the possibilities of each country, making it big or small in the sporting dimension.

Powers such as the United States, China, Scandinavian countries, Canada choose the best of the many strongest, while launching the Olympic training cycle for several dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of athletes. This is reflected both in the total number of the national team, and in the possibility of a painless replacement of one or another athlete in each type of competition, in case of illness, breakdown or some other negative factor.

Unfortunately, in Kazakhstan, according to available open information, the bench is very short, if not to say that it sometimes does not exist. The unexpected loss of one Olympian completely exposes our rear, as happened in the case of the death of Denis Ten, or the critical injury of the already mentioned Elisabeth Tursynbayeva.
Including due to the lack of an alternative, even our eminent athletes are forced to perform at the limit, going far beyond the age limits, if only to “close” the largest number of disciplines of the Winter Olympics. An accidental injury during training or illness of the only contender automatically deprives us of any hope of an Olympic medal, as happened, for example, with the leader of the national mogul team, Yulia Galysheva, an experienced freestyle skier who took third place at the previous Olympics in South Korea.

At the same time, it is obvious that a long "bench" of the best athletes is possible only when the sport of such a level becomes popular in the country. Kazakhstan put up for the current games, at first glance, a fairly large team of 34 people, but it should be borne in mind that in Beijing the competition was in 15 disciplines. In other words, on average, there are 2 athletes per discipline. And the level of their training can vary greatly. Simple arithmetic shows that if a top-five contender pulls a leg, the second top-thirty is unlikely to replace him in the fight for a medal. In fact, this is what happened to our team in China.

And this is not surprising, if you know the deplorable state of mass winter sports in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, for thirty years of independence, the training of Olympians was carried out by the method of "hydroponic cultivation" from a very narrow environment of those who could afford it. These are small sports dynasties, or simply desperate parents who are ready for any financial and other sacrifices for the sake of their child.

At the same time, the traditional path, namely the selection of the best from many talented athletes, as in the USA or Canada, was completely ignored, although the prospects and strategic nature of such a campaign are clear to everyone. After all, the involvement of the broad masses in the sport of high achievements is an inexhaustible resource for any Olympic team, ultimately leading to the podium of fame, which Norway has once again proved.

In Norway, out of 5.3 million citizens, 4.7 million officially go in for sports, and regularly. Even the smallest village has a stadium, a skating rink, a swimming pool and ski tracks. From the first grade, all children have free access to sports sections with excellent equipment. As a result, this country has won the most gold medals at the Winter Olympics, far ahead of such huge countries as China and Russia.
At the same time, virtually any country, outside of its geographical scope, can become big in the sports sense. For example, Latvia, with a population of less than two million, was able to field 57 athletes for the Winter Games, which is amazing. With such proportions, Kazakhstan would have to form a team of 500 athletes with Olympic licenses.

Latvia was able to achieve such efficiency through the development of mass sports for its citizens, unlike Kazakhstan, which took the path of injecting huge amounts of money through the operator represented by the National Olympic Committee, which were spent, among other things, on the purchase and naturalization of foreign athletes, wages for functionaries, and activities that are incomprehensible to a general audience and likely to be investigated by the competent authorities.

The development of winter sports based on mass character and accessibility for all segments of the population will require the state and business to spend on building large-scale infrastructure everywhere, in cities and even small villages, but I think a country with such a large number of billionaires from the Forbes list can afford it.
At the same time, you need to understand that such work needs to start now in order to give a chance to some talented boy from Turkestan to become an experienced hockey player, and a girl from a godforsaken village in Northern Kazakhstan to become an eminent figure skater. And even if we do everything immediately, we will be able to count on stable Olympic results not in four years, for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, but in twenty years, when our own star galaxy of domestic coaches will be prepared.

At the same time, the benefits of such an approach seem to be colossal: mass winter sports can breathe new life into all sports facilities that are often idle outside of major competitions, help improve our nation, unite all Kazakhstanis, regardless of their ethnicity, reduce the number of suicides among young people, and, in the end, to make Kazakh citizenship prestigious and attractive.

In addition to all of the above, this will help transform the psychology of both ordinary Kazakhstanis and the ruling elite in a positive direction. Now victories at the Olympiads are needed as evidence of the correctness of the chosen course, a lever for legitimizing the political regime, which is typical for societies with a totalitarian past.

But if the focus of the state shifts to the availability of winter sports for the entire population, then this will radically change the attitude towards Olympic victories, since they will be perceived only as part of an extensive social program of the state. Regardless of victories or defeats in the Olympic field, every citizen will know that we are a sports nation without them, as every day he will see confirmation in the activities of his children in sports sections and centers.

And then at the Winter Olympics in 2042, immediately after the celebration of half a century of our Independence, we will come to a real sports power, which, in principle, will not care if we win or lose, because even without this, Kazakhstan will be a great example of a country that really cares about its citizens. And they will talk about the Kazakhs, as they talk about the Norwegians today...


Farkhad Kassenov,  political observer