2015 has been one of the most successful years for sport in Kazakhstan. Thousands of loyal fans have been cheering on FC Astana as they have reached the unprecedented heights of competing in the main group stage of the UEFA Champions League. To play through several qualifying rounds, beating all opposition for the right to play alongside the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester United has firmly placed FC Astana on the European football map.
Holding well-established and world-famous clubs Galatasaray and Atletico Madrid to draws in the Astana Arena are matches that will live long in the memory of those who were fortunate enough to attend.
It is not just on the football field, however, that Kazakh teams are making their mark. The exploits of Barys Astana and Kazakhstan’s other teams across the nation are watched by millions of ice hockey fans throughout Europe and Asia. Up to 12,000 spectators are now able to see the action live in the brand new, state-of-the-art Barys Arena.
We all cheer our world-beating elite sports stars on snow, ice, road and grass. It is clear that their success brings benefits to our economy. Whether it is buying tickets at a sports arena, purchasing a team jersey or encouraging global fans to visit Kazakhstan, the power of sport for economic advantage is profound. Add to that the associated employment and advertising endorsement deals, and the benefits of sport are more significant than ever. A recent study has found that sport now accounts for more than 112 billion euros (US$120.1 billion) annually across the European Union. The potential for even greater growth of this sector in Kazakhstan is clear to see.
The Astana cycling team has long been known throughout the world and has firmly established Kazakhstan as a nation of cycling obsessives. Go outside on a summer’s day and see for yourself the increasing number of lycra-clad cyclists speeding along our roads.
This is just one demonstration of how sport in Kazakhstan is far more than a purely spectator pastime. Our successes in sport are inspiring more of us to get involved. Whether it is kids playing football at school or skiers heading to the world-class winter sports facilities near Almaty, the uptake of sport in Kazakhstan is apparent across the country. In fact, as of 2014, Kazakhstan had hosted more than 27,000 sports events, with more than 3.5 million people taking part. That represents around a fifth of the population participating in organised sport.
The exploits of our elite sportsmen and women provokes a fantastic manifestation of national pride and support but despite the widespread coverage that they may receive, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of sport’s wider benefits.
There is strong evidence to suggest that regular physical exercise can help reduce a whole host of illness and disease. In fact, regular exercise has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions. So playing sport brings far more than the enjoyment of being on a football field, ice rink or other environment.
A fit and healthy population needs fewer visits to the doctor, with less need for expensive medicines and, therefore, fewer days taken as sick leave. For Kazakhstan, the benefits of growing sports participation is a great opportunity to give a boost to our nation’s health as well as its wealth.