Pride and Politics on Display in Kyrgyzstan

Recent Features

Magazine | Society | Central Asia

Pride and Politics on Display in Kyrgyzstan

The World Nomad Games were great fun, but also securitized, commercialized, politicized, and nationalized.

Pride and Politics on Display in Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz team rounds the kok-boru goal carrying the nation’s flag.

Credit: Catherine Putz

For all the fun and excitement of the 2nd World Nomad Games, confusion and chaos were a part of the experience and, if you looked a little to the side, the fresh shine of the venues gave way to the cracks of reality: poor infrastructure, poverty, and politics.

Kyrgyzstan wants to double down on tourism, for good reason. What it lacks in oil or gas, it makes up for in congeniality and mountains. The 2nd World Nomad Games were a deliberate part of that initiative, but like the Olympic Games elsewhere in the world the large venues and bombastic promotion grated nerves and strained pocketbooks. Many look at dilapidated stadiums in Greece and wonder: was it worth it? The same will be said of the 10,000-seat hippodrome in Cholpon-ata, which was completed just in the nick of time.

Kyrgyzstan aims to make the Games a biennial event, but there are no dates set for 2018 just yet.

“In the recent years of commercialization and politicization of sports, the transformation of sporting competitions into an area of ideological contradictions and conflicts has made us think about the humanizing of sports in general,”  Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev said during the opening ceremonies.

Despite Atambayev’s prognostication during the lavish opening ceremonies that the Games would not be commercialized or politicized, both trends were evident. The Games were also significantly securitized and nationalized at times as well.