The Sporting Event You’ve Never Heard of… But Won’t Want to Miss. Here’s Why.
In September, Turkmenistan will be hosting the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in their show-piece capital, Ashgabat. Think of it like a mini Olympics for people who get sunburnt easily. Unless you happen to be from a participating country, and even then, unless you’re very much involved in one of the obscure sports they hold events in, you wouldn’t have heard of it. And why would you have?
Horse Monument. Ashgabat
The Indoor Games has been held three times before, thus this is the fifth edition, makes sense right? Previous hosts were Bangkok in 2005, Macau in 2007 and finally Hanoi in 2009, on a very small scale. There was an event called the Martial Arts Games held in Incheon, South Korea in 2013, the first edition of that event. Now in 2017 these two sporting Meccas will join to become one event.
YPT has been taking tours to Turkmenistan for three years now (not to mention our guides who’ve been going and writing about it for even longer). For those three years, the entire city and even country has been preparing for this event. Signs and billboards on every corner advertising the event, logos appearing on newspaper mastheads, on clothing sold at shops. I remember the hype surrounding the 2000 Sydney Olympics, growing up in Australia. It changed everything for us, from public and school holidays to road closures, to changes in school curriculum. But that still doesn’t compare to the tour de force we have seen in Ashgabat.
Three wheeled buggy race… seriously.
The events that will take place are, as weird as they are, a sports lover’s dream. Even the most hardened football hooligan will surely enjoy such events as chess, 3-on-3 basketball, 10 pin bowling, dancing, pool/billards and futsal. This year, there will even be an event called ‘electronic sports’. I kid you not, we’ve been told this will be people competing in computer games such as Counterstrike. There will be some more regular sports as well: indoor track cycling, wrestling, short course swimming (25m pool instead of 50m), weightlifting and of course as the name suggests, lots of martial arts, some of which I guarantee you’ll never have heard of.
One of many martial art competitions at the annual Indoor Games.
You’re probably thinking, “why would I want to see the types of games which are used to fill rainy days?” Because, there’s a twist. Ashgabat has spent billions of dollars on the event – the opening and closing ceremony are most likely going to put the Beijing Olympics to shame. The Olympic village they’ve built with restaurants, shops and even a monorail to entertain guests cost USD$5 billion alone. The opening ceremony has some supername starts performing such as South Korean girl group 2NE1, Australian opera singer Monica Oriel, Japanese jazz band JABBERLOOP, British electropop band Years & Years, Filipina soprano Gerphil Flores and Turkmen pop stars such as Maral Ibragimova, Hamra Hasanov. No, we’ve never heard of them either, but we’re excited!
Horse Monument. Ashgabat
This is why YPT can’t wait to go to these Indoor Games; they’re going to be huge, they’re going to be strange, but most of all they’re going to be entertaining. The local supporters will be filling every seat that isn’t occupied by a paying foreign guest, cheering as if it’s the Superbowl, not a chess tournament.
The final weird twist is seeing Ashgabat full of foreigners. The organisers predict at least 30,000 guests for the two weeks. Let’s assume that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but even a third of this amount is crazy. Turkmenistan currently gets around 6,000-7,000 foreigners per year, much less than most other countries in the world including North Korea, and that’s spread over an entire year. Even if they get 10,000 tourists for the two weeks, it’s an amazing experience to see the local bars and restaurants with foreigners in them, and it’s wonderful to see the reactions of the locals. There are also particular areas of the city, such as the front of the President’s Palace where it’s forbidden to take photos or even walk. It may be easy to enforce these rules with 20 foreigners, but with thousands walking the streets aimlessly, it’s a lot harder monitor. We’re pretty excited to be part of it.