The Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat is the world’s biggest user of marble with huge expanses of the luxuriant rock adorning a $5 billion Olympic complex being built to boost the isolated Central Asian state’s international ambitions.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s government wants all new construction to be white and Ashgabat has more marble buildings than any other city in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
The white stone, imported from Italy, Spain, China and Vietnam, clads more than 540 office blocks and palace-style banks, hotels and ministries built along city centre boulevards in the past 15 years.
The oil and gas rich state’s autocratic leader has also taken the lead in preparing for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in September 2017.
There is some 217,000 square metres of marble, enough to cover 28 football pitches, in the Olympic complex, according to project coordinator Osman Karakus.
Turkmenistan is not yet a sporting power.
But for five billion dollars, the five million population are getting a 45,000-capacity main stadium, the world’s biggest indoor velodrome with a capacity of 6,000 spectators, a basketball stadium, indoor athletic track certified by the International Association of Athletic Federations, tennis courts and a host of other world class facilities and hotels — much of them covered in a marble exterior. All will be linked by a monorail.
Up to 30 sport disciplines could be on the schedule in 2030. On top of mainstream sports, the games will also feature line dancing and wrestling where Central Asian states hope to win medals.
President Berdymukhamedov has personally taken charge of preparations for the 2017 Games, that will for the first time feature competitors from Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific states among the 6,000 athletes.
He hopes the Games will launch Turkmenistan onto bigger competitions and is already considering bidding for other events, according to officials.
– Leader’s personal touch –
Berdymukhamedov has personally chosen many of the fittings and materials used in the Olympic complex, according to officials in Ashgabat.
The single party state is accused by western human rights groups and some governments of using repression against opponents. But some international figures see sport as a way to open up Turkmenistan to outside influence.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, head of the Olympic Council of Asia, and one of the most influential figures in world sport, strongly backed Turkmenistan’s hosting of the 2017 Games. He has said the country could host a future Asian Games, the continent’s full 30 sport extravaganza held every four years with nearly 10,000 athletes.
At the signing of a Games accord in Ashgabat on Friday, the Sheikh said Berdymukhamedov has agreed to use the event to improve health and education.
Ashgabat, which has tentatively started to open up to foreign tourists, will also get a new international airport in 2016.
“You don’t build a new airport unless you want strong international relations,” the sheikh said.
Sebastian Coe, the British running great and organiser of the 2012 London Olympics whose company CSM Sport has advised Turkmenistan on planning the 2017 Games, praised “the great vision” of the president in bringing the Asian event to Ashgabat.
“I am greatly looking forward to seeing the athlete-focused state of the art facilities that have been created under your leadership,” he told the ceremony.
Hinting at his country’s hopes, Dayanch Gulgeldiyev, nominal chairman of the Games organising committee, said: “Turkmenistan is one of the world’s best kept secrets, and we look forward to finally sharing this secret with the world in 2017.” – Agence France-Presse