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First an Expo, next both a Winter and Summer Olympics for Kazakhstan?

30 november 2012, 16:05
7

A lot of ingredients go into a developing country’s rise to the elite club of wealthy nations.

Among the most important are a well-thought-out national economic-development plan and an educated, hard-working population.

Many international economic experts say Kazakhstan has had an excellent development blueprint in place, with just one measure being a huge jump in gross domestic product per capita since independence 20 years ago.

As for educational attainment, the country is in the midst of the most sweeping educational change I’ve ever seen. It can only bode well for Kazakhstan’s ability to compete with the world’s elite nations.

An ingredient that can accelerate a developing country’s advance toward elite-nation status is an international event. And the foremost in this category are international Expos and Olympic Games.

Kazakhstan’s recent victory over Liege, Belgium, for the Expo 2017 promises to be an important development sparkplug.

And the country has brand-new infrastructure in place to land a Winter Olympics soon. It built most of the facilities for the 2011 Asian Winter Games that were split between Astana and Almaty. My guess is that Kazakhstan will land a Winter Olympics in the next two decades.

And if it can land a Winter Olympics, why not the biggest sports spectacle of all – a Summer Olympics?

Yes, Kazakhstan, with 17 million people, is a relatively small country to hold a Summer Olympics. But it has proven with events like the summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010, the Winter Olympics and the annual Astana Economic Forums that it can put on a grand show.

So there’s no doubt in my mind that it could hold a successful Summer Olympics.

The 161 member countries of the Paris-based Bureau for International Expositions certainly had no doubt about Kazakhstan’s ability to hold a successful Expo. Two-thirds of its members favored Astana’s bid over Liege’s. I almost felt sorry for Liege that the vote was so lopsided.

If you watched the televised reaction to Kazakhstan’s victory, you saw broad smiles on the faces of President Nursultan Nazarbayev and officials who will be key players in putting on the Expo, including Astana Mayor Imangali Tasmagambetov and Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov.

I’m just as delighted as many Kazakhs are that Astana will have an Expo. I’ve never been to one. To have one right in my back yard will be terrific.

It will be interesting to see how the two big international events I expect Kazakhstan to hold in the next couple of decades – the Expo and the Winter Olympics – will affect its development.

I was a journalist in Japan when Seoul landed the Summer Olympics in 1988. At the start of the 1980s, South Korea was a relatively poor country. Look at it now! It has a dynamic, diverse economy that is challenging the Americans, Japanese and Germans in autos, electronics and other fields.

Yes, South Korea was developing before the Summer Olympics. But just as the 1964 Olympics accelerated Japan’s development, the 1988 Games revved up South Korea’s economic engine.

South Korea also landed the last Expo – in 2012 in Yeosu. So the country knows full well what international events can do for an economy.

I’ll also be interested in seeing how Kazakhstan uses its 113-hectare Expo site after the exhibition.

President Nazarbayev has said it will become a science and technology park. That will fit with Kazakhstan’s quest for innovation.

Before the site gets to the technology-park stage, though, several million visitors will troop through it to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of the dozens of countries that take part in the Expo.

It will be a show a lot of us won’t want to miss.

 


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