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Football Venues in Kazakhstan: a Long-standing Issue

Football Venues in Kazakhstan: a Long-standing Issue
Zhetysu Taldykorgan (blue) welcomed Kazakhstan champions FC Astana in the 2016 Kazakhstan Premier League Week 5 at their reserve venue in Taldykorgan (Photo credit: fc-zhetisu.kz)

At the beginning of every season Kazakhstan football faces a lot of headache considering the grounds to play on in the top flight, not to mention the lower pyramid levels.

Football vs. Cold Spring

The problem has not appeared today or yesterday as this is a permanent issue in the country with some harsh climatic and weather irregularities. In springs, only in the southern parts of Kazakhstan (Almaty Region, Southern Kazakhstan, Jambyl Region plus Mangystau – five 'oblasts' from 14) conditions tend to be suitable for playing football.

As for the major areas of the country – which mostly include the steppe and forest-steppe landscapes – they often suffer from snow showers, heavy winds and low temperatures even between March and May. If you play on natural grass at this time of year, you are likely to have your pitch surface damaged after just few games without any hopes to restore it until the end of the season. This forces the KPL clubs and not just those from North, Central, West and East Kazakhstan, in order to keep their turfs safe, to temporarily utilise their reserve venues or even neutral grounds which might be located dozens and hundreds of miles away from the club bases.

The reality is that 20 of the 36 opening 2016 KPL matches (55,5%) haven't taken place at the teams' regular stadiums!

Tobol Kostanay (white) and Shakhter Kargandy who host their spring games at backup venues are well-acquainted with the cold and heavy surfaces (Photo credit: fc-tobol.kz)

Backup Less Than Glittering

In the first six gameweeks, Shakhter Karagandy have been using the Metallurg Stadium in Temirtau (39 km away from Karaganda) instead of their original Shakhter Stadium. The same story with Tobol Kostanay as they now have to deal with the Zatobolets Stadium in neighbouring Zatobolsk (which is 12 km away from Kostanay). Zhetysu Taldykorgan and Akzhayik Oral also have played every of their home games on their reserve pitches thus far.

FC Atyrau haven't touched yet their main turf at the Munaishy Sports Complex, temporarily exploiting the low comforts of the Sudoremontnik, Atyrau City's lesser stadium. And Okzhetpes Kokshetau are still to take on their opponents on their home soil in Kokshetau since they have welcomed visiting teams at the rented Astana Arena where FC Aktobe also have played one of their home matches (following the failed preparation of their reserve pitch in Aktobe). And the distance between Astana and Kokshetau is 309 km, while you need to take a 1,470-km long trip from Aktobe to reach the Kazakhstan capital. 

With these backup venues being worlds away from brilliance of Wemley or Santiago Bernabéu (and yes, you can say almost the same thing about the majority of the KPL clubs' regular grounds), it is easy to see that existing situation has an obvious negative effect on players (as they have to take some excessive risks of being injured when fielded on poor surfaces) and supporters (many of whom has no chance to see their teams in their cities for months or find themselves in a ridiculously old school context, watching football from roofs and through fences). Additionally, it doesn't help to improve the league's TV product which already lacks quality, being quite unimpressive in terms of its visuals and atmosphere.

It is safe to say that Arsenal FC fans could hardly imagine Andrey Arshavin, now Kairat Almaty star, in surroundings he had experienced in his Kazakhstan Premier League debut at the Akzhayik Oral's reserve ground in Uralsk, West Kazakhstan (Photo credit: fc-akzhayik.kz)

Astana Arena and... and That’s All

One can argue that it has to do with the uninspiring fact that there was only one big football stadium built in Kazakhstan over 25 years of its independent development, the Astana Arena. This well-constructed, though still not without its little defficiencies, modern venue with a 30,000 capacity and an artificial pitch within its classy-looking walls meets the key FIFA and UEFA requirements and is considered as Kazakhstan national team's main ground.

Along with the Astana Arena, the nation has, actually, just one more or less properly designed and internationally recognised venue in the form of the Almaty Central Stadium. It was built in the late 1950s and reconstructed in the 2000s, serving as Kairat Almaty home for decades. It presents an excellent natural pitch, arguably the best in Kazakhstan, and its stands are able to welcome 23,800 spectators which means it is one of the biggest sports venues in the country.

Almaty Central Stadium is all about history and nostalgia but that couldn't prevent it from some limitations and shortcomings. Those have been inherited from the old Soviet times, with its location and construction issues being an obstacle to providing high standards. Also it has to do with a poor running in certain areas (media facilities, Internet connectivity etc.) which, in part, can be explained by the fact that it is a municipal, not Kairat's, property.

However, there are no big stadiums owned and totally controlled by football clubs in the league, the factor that affects the game not only in Kazakhstan but in many European countries.

Almaty Central Stadium
In recent years, empty stands were nothing new even for the Almaty Central Stadium, one of the oldest and fondest sports venues in Kazakhstan (Photo credit: Tlek Adryshev) 

No Walls, No Halls

Several years ago, the Football Federation of Kazakhstan (FFK) have promised to solve the issue by launching their wide program similar to the those successfully installed in the Nordic countries. It was assumed that across the country, numerical indoor halls, capable to accommodate at least 3,000 attendance each, shall be built to provide the teams with good opportunity of playing in cold weather.

A good idea, indeed, but as the saying goes, between promising and performing, a man may marry his daughter. It didn't work as none of such venues has been raised and even the FFK's recent stance to urge the clubs to have the indoor halls couldn't get things moving. In fact, that requirement – though it came from the previous FFK board – was an ultimatum. However, it fell in deaf ears even in pre-crisis period, so it is hard to see how the project can come to fruition in the near future.

Therefore, the venue strugglings in springs and late autumns that restrain Kazakhstan football's evolvement seem destined to continue. At least, in several forthcoming seasons.

Built in 2009, Astana Arena remains the only high-profile football stadium in Kazakhstan where domestic game is in desperate need of more appropriate venues (Photo credit: FC Aktobe vk.com account)

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