Wikileaks and the Kazakhs

All the storm over the recent diplomatic documents Wikileaks doesn’t surprise me, but it’s just interesting to see things put in black and white text. A bit like someone’s private, off-the-record thoughts being transcribed and made very public. It’s embarrassing.

Some recent documents touch on the small world of pro cycling. Two “cables” from US diplomats about Kazakhstan give us some colour on life in the upper echelons of the Kazakh government.

As a quick primer let’s remember this is a country where even the most senior politicians and apparatchiks clear salaries of about US$50,000 yet some find the money to “invest” in real estate in Britain, Switzerland and other more stable countries. It’s all about getting money out of the country.

Put politely this is a country where certain elements of transparency and accountability are lacking. Although amusingly one Kazakh diplomat asksIf Goldman Sachs executives can make $50 million a year and then run America’s economy in Washington, what’s so different about what we do?“.

Perhaps the official has a point but the cables suggest if if allegations of corruption and cronyism are met with a shrug or even a wink… the government draws the line when it comes to being associated with pro cycling..

Sports and politics mixed seamlessly in Almaty on April 2, when some of Kazakhstan’s most prominent political figures participated in the Beijing Olympics torch relay. Torchbearers included President Nazarbayev, Presidential Administration business affairs head Bolat Utemuratov… …All of these bigwigs, except Nazarbayev himself, could justify their participation in the relay based not on their high-ranking political offices, but rather on their prominent official positions in the Kazakhstani sports world… …One prominent sport federation president who missed the torch call was Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov. He is head of the scandal-ridden Cycling Federation.

So there you have it. It’s ok to parade in the street if there are doubts over human rights track or financial probity. But public association with Vino and the scandal of pro cycling could be a step too far for a government mindful of its public image.

Jokes aside if Daniyal Akhmetov has fallen out of favour with the political elite then the future of the cycling team could come under more scrutiny. Still, someone has to be a massive cycling fan, the team has been dragged through more scandal than any other team yet it’s still going strong.