Why sport is neglected in Turkmenistan

The Turkmen authorities spend billions of dollars on the construction of sports facilities whereas coaches are paid less than $300 a month.

After returning from Sochi, where the President of Turkmenistan had attended the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, he severely criticized his subordinates responsible for promoting sports and athletics in the country. According to the President, the government invests huge funds into the construction of sports facilities but no tangible results have been achieved. One can hardly argue with this statement. Based on rough estimates, over two billion US dollars are scheduled to be invested to build the Olympic village alone which is under construction in Ashgabat.

A number of sports facilities have already been built across the country.

But it should be highlighted that the President is interested in certain construction projects until the grand opening. The country's leader is not concerned about further fate of the construction object -whether the investments are paid back, whether the site is properly maintained or used as intended.

Sports does not only mean stadiums, ice palaces or compulsory large-scale bike rides. Sports is primarily about experts, infrastructure, support and development programs developed by professionals and needless to say, funding of the aforementioned initiatives.

Currently salaries of coaches working with children range from 600 to 800 manats (equivalent of 210-280 US dollars). They are forced to collect money contributions from parents of junior athletes on sports equipment and uniforms. Adult athletes have to find money for their trips to participate in sports competition.

Stadiums are also maintained at the expense of sports fans. For instance, the former stadium "Locomotive" located near the Ashgabat train station, which is home for young football players of youth and junior Turkmen national soccer teams, are funded by footballers and coaches.

The administration of the stadium collect money from them on a regular basis to trim a soccer field (cleaning the old cover, harrowing and planting grass), paint fences, refurbish stands etc.

All sports organizations are registered as independent NGOs with all that it implies. In other words they are urged to seek funding to be self sustainable. The authorities are virtually no longer responsible for their funding and occasionally provide insignificant amounts of money which are allocated according to whatever funds remain. But even these scarce funds are mostly embezzled by officials who have access to these funds.

Mass sports movements are also formal and ostentatious. These are either paths to health, accompanied by television crews or bike rides led by the President. However, such events are held 3 to 4 times a year and have nothing to do with promoting healthy lifestyle.

The state of physical culture and sports in the country is a reflection of social policy pursued by the authorities of Turkmenistan. The outcome has been reached (in the form of expensive construction sites) but has not been efficient (in terms of sports achievements and health of Turkmen residents).

The situation can be improved if less money is spent on the construction of costly objects and more funds invested to support and promote physical culture and sports.

Source: TIHR