In 2025 Uzbekistan is going to host the Fourth Asian Youth Games where athletes from 45 states are expected to take part in 20 sports events. Currently, the country is doing its best to build an infrastructure suitable for the international event and enough to take on board more than 6,000 foreign guests. For example, Uzbekistan plans to build an Olympic village at an area of 150 hectares as well as a 270-hectare park and a five-kilometer-long riverside for rowing along the Chirchik River.
Uzbekistan’s authorities have been making a bet on sports tourism. Due to its geographical location and climate, the country has almost ideal conditions for doing sports in the open air throughout the year. In Soviet times, Uzbekistan used to be a venue of many state-wide sports events while Uzbek sportsmen successfully represented USSR on the international stage.
These days, the history of the modern sport of the country is being shaped not only by professional athletes but also by regular people who are used to keeping an active lifestyle.
Running sport in Uzbekistan has been actively developing in recent years. There are big communities of marathon, triathlon, and pentathlon runners in the country.
“We have a half marathon with 3,000 participants on the closed-for-vehicles streets of our capital. No one could imagine this five years ago,” said Malik Karimov, co-founder of the Tashkent Runners community.
Similar running events are also held in other big cities, including Samarkand Half Marathon – the most famous marathon in Uzbekistan, which has been held since 2019. People love this event because they can observe the main sights in the city.
The very first marathon gathered 1,176 runners from 25 countries. According to Mirkhan Sagitov, curator and co-founder of the Tashkent Runners, there were just 100 locals, which means that the tourist potential of the event is huge.
“Usually, each participant has a companion such as family members or friends. They need accommodation, food and souvenirs. Some hotels even offer special discounts for runners,” he said.
In 2020 Samarkand Half Marathon was online due to the pandemic. More than 3,000 participants from 37 states had registered in the application to run various distances on their own.
“Samarkand Half Marathon is one of the biggest tourism projects in Uzbekistan. I would say that it’s a cultural and tourist project, not just a sports event. Because the marathon occurs on the first Sunday of November, we make the tourist season longer, which is no doubt good. In the first event, there were a lot of Kazakhstanis. Later on, the number of sportsmen from Kyrgyzstan and Russia has grown tremendously,” Sagitov added.
Currently, organizers of that event think about how they can repeat the success in other regions of the country. For example, they plan to have a Zaamin Ultra in the Zaamin National Park in the Jizzakh region.
According to Maksim Proschenko, co-founder of the Nordic walking school called Eurasia, Uzbekistan can increase the attractiveness of its sights with the help of such events. Sports tourists can always combine sport and spare time to see historical monuments.
Today Uzbekistan is an interesting venue for both summer and winter sports. “In past years, Uzbekistani authorities thought that skiing was not suitable for our country because of the warm climate. However, everything has changed these days,” said Behzod Yakubov, chairman of the Ski Sports Federation of Uzbekistan.
There is only one modern ski resort in Uzbekistan, Amirsoy, which is located 65 km from Tashkent on the slopes of the Chatkal ridge in the western part of the Tien Shan mountains. Amirsoy meets all the international standards and works throughout the year. The ski resort complex takes an area of 892 km and its first stage was built in less than two years, starting operations in December 2019.
The design and construction of the resort were carried out by specialists from Italy, Germany, Austria, Argentina, Spain and Denmark. The project was implemented by the Andorran company PGI Management for $100 million. Now the second stage of the resort construction is underway.
The other two points that attract skiing fans in the Tashkent region are Chimgan and Beldersay resorts. They are located just five kilometers from each other and both have Soviet-era chairlifts. Currently, the region wants to build a large-scale ski cluster project, which would include Beldersay – Chimgan – Nanai in one resort zone with 60 km of ski trails and 29 km of cableway in Chimgan and Beldersay. The project, which costs about $480 million in total with $280 million as direct investments, should be started in December 2021. At the first stage, the project owner is going to build ski trails and relevant infrastructure at the expense of a concessional loan from the state of France for €48 million. The concept of the resort and its economic model were also developed by a consortium of French companies thanks to a grant from the FASEP fund for €750,000.
Another $300 million project of an all-season tourist complex with ski slopes is planned to be built in the Zaamin district of the Jizzakh region. This area is considered as an ideal place by one Turkish company, which is already working on new roads and communication infrastructure. However, the contractor for cableway and chairlift construction is the Doppelmayr company from Austria.
According to Behzod Yakubov, the country with a population of 34 million people has great potential for the development of alpine skiing and the winter recreation industry as a whole. If the country succeeds in the implementation of that “winter potential” strategy, the attractiveness of Uzbekistan would surge with a multiplier effect for the regions and the country’s economy. As the Ski Sports Federation of Uzbekistan chairman noted, these ski resorts might be attractive for tourists and athletes from neighboring states in Central Asia.
Photo: Elbek Aliyev
Investments for Infrastructure
This year is a Year of Supporting Youth and Improving Population Health in Uzbekistan. The country plans to modernize 34 sports facilities and build 23 new ones and has already allocated about $38 million for these purposes. Moreover, the country is going to actively promote sports among its citizens.
In October 2020, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed a decree, which was aimed at the development of mass sports. According to the document, the government will allocate roughly $10 million annually for the promotion of running, mini-football, cycling, badminton, streetball and workouts. An additional $133 million will be allocated for the construction of pedestrian and bicycle paths.
More and more new bicycle paths in Tashkent and other cities stimulate more people to ride their bikes, says Yelena Kun, secretary-general of the Uzbekistan Triathlon Federation. She believes that once foreign tourists are regular visitors to Uzbekistan, their example will contribute to the development of mass sports in the country.
“Currently Uzbekistan is just at the very beginning of the development of sports tourism but I have no doubt that active guests from other countries and all these sports events such as the Asian Youth Games will support the promotion of mass sports in our republic,” Elena Kun said.