On May 21, Muhiddin Kabiri, the leader of the opposition Islamic Revival Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) announced that his party will reward Tajik athletes who bring home medals from the forthcoming Summer Olympic Games in London. Each medalist will receive a one-bedroom apartment in the country’s capital Dushanbe. Such an apartment can cost anything between US$ 30,000 and US$ 80,000. According to Kabiri, the move aims to support the country’s athletes who manage to achieve results at high-performance international competitions despite limited financial assistance from the government. “Our main goal in offering to reward Olympic success is to support the nation’s sportsmen and to call on other individuals, political parties, and organizations to follow suit,” he said. “Tajik athletes should receive all the support they need because they represent our country and build its image. I will be happy if this also helps to strengthen our party’s image.”
IRPT’s decision to reward potential Olympic medalists has obvious political objectives. In Tajikistan, sports remain severely underfunded and even the top performing athletes often struggle to make ends meet. Therefore, by offering incentives to the Olympians, Central Asia’s only Islamic party aims to demonstrate its willingness to do tangible things for the country. Kabiri appears certain to become IRPT’s candidate for the presidential elections next year. Earning additional public support will help him in challenging the incumbent president, Emomali Rahmon, who will seek reelection for another seven-year term in 2013.
The authorities have also promised handsome cash rewards for Olympic medals. In January, President Rahmon announced that the government will pay the country’s Olympians 300,000 somoni (US$ 63,000) for gold; 250,000 somoni (US$ 52,500) for silver, and 200,000 somoni (US$ 42,000) for bronze medals. The mayor of Dushanbe has also offered one-bedroom apartments for each gold medal; 45,000 somoni (US$ 9,400) for silver, and 35,000 somoni (US$ 7,300) for Olympic bronze. In addition, Tajikistan’s largest private bank, Oriyonbonk, which is owned by a relative of Rahmon’s, has promised that each Tajik medalist in London will receive a luxury car.
However, the athletes that will represent Tajikistan in the forthcoming Olympics may have legitimate doubts about whether the government will keep its promises. Following the 2008 Games in Beijing, where the country won its first two Olympic medals since independence, Tajikistan’s authorities were criticized for not rewarding their medalists adequately and for leaving them with no financial support afterwards.
Rasoul Boqiev, who won a bronze medal for Tajikistan in judo in Beijing, received a cash bonus of about US$ 2,300 and a car from the government. After that, the country’s Olympic committee stopped funding the athlete and refused to send him on training trips. Soon after the 2008 Olympics, lack of financial support prompted the athlete to work as a taxi driver. In early 2009, Boqiev acquired Russian citizenship, took part in the country’s championship, and said that he wanted to represent Russia in international competitions. However, several weeks later, President Rahmon was elected head of Tajikistan’s Olympic committee, and the country’s aluminum company, TALCO, announced that it will give monthly cash bonuses to the top performing athletes, including Boqiev. After several meetings with Tajik officials, the judo practitioner agreed to continue representing the country.
Tajikistan’s other 2008 Olympic medalist, Yusuf Abdusalomov, who had won a silver medal in men’s wrestling, has also criticized the authorities for leaving him without support. The athlete suffered an injury soon after the Olympics, and Tajikistan refused to pay for his treatment. Even after Abdusalomov recovered from the injury and qualified for the 2012 Olympics, he claimed that the cash bonuses promised by TALCO always arrived late and were not sufficient to cover the expenses needed to prepare for and participate in international competitions.
Hence, Tajik athletes may have more reason to trust the promises made by the opposition party than those made by government officials. So far, fifteen athletes have qualified to represent Tajikistan in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Sports expert Narzullo Latifov has recently suggested that Tajik athletes are not likely to win Olympic gold in London. However, according to Latifov, they can bring home up to three silver or bronze medals, particularly in men’s wrestling and judo, and in both men’s and women’s boxing.
(Published originally in the CACI Analyst on June 13, 2012)