Business and sport are indivisible. However, while in the leading countries of the European continent, investment in football is often regarded as a business project (for example, the arrival of investors in clubs like Chelsea, PSG, Manchester City), in Kazakhstan it is entirely subsidy-based. One of those who decided to direct the flow of investments into domestic football and its infrastructure is a well-known Kazakhstani businessman, co-owner and chairman of the Board of Directors of Lancaster Group JSC Berik Kaniyev. In an interview for our publication Berik Kaniyev spoke about the development of the youth football, investment in football and his position in the vector of development of the Football Federation of Kazakhstan (FFK).
– Berik Seraliyevich, not long ago Almaty hosted a major conference on the development of youth football. It has been controversial in the sports community. How do you consider it?
It was a very productive and positive conference. Firstly, everyone had been waiting to have an open format conference format with participation of the President of FFK where everyone in an interactive mode can discuss the program of the youth and mass football. Due to its format, many experts and guests were able to ask questions, express their opinions on problems, openly discuss pressing issues and possibly solve them. Everyone was very serious and responsible about it, so it was a good, lively discussion resulting in a unanimous decision to adopt the program. I always support such meetings. By the way, we recently held a meeting with children’s coaches.
– Initially, when Erlan Kozhagapanov came to the post of Head of the FFK, he had many opponents and was criticized for not being a football person. Do you think he is moving in the right direction?
In an absolutely right direction. He should be given a chance to do his work, because the football situation in our country is not easy, and there are a lot of problems. It is not necessary for the Football Federation to be managed by a former football player. Erlan is a capable person, he quickly sees into the essence of what is happening, efficiently makes contacts with the regions and resolves many issues on the spot. For example, a program has been created for the development of youth football with the assistance of foreign consultants. The fact that today we have a transparency model of the Federation contributing to a lively and open debate, speaks volumes. It’s very helpful. In addition, the head of the federation – is a public office and the support of the entire society is very important. Open meetings and the development program should deliver benefits, so it is the right direction. Everyone now directly talks about the problem of infrastructure, low salaries of children’s teachers, the transition of players … Erlan Kozhagapanovu should be given time, and hopefully after a certain period we will see the result.
– You are one of the curators of project Almaty League of Youth Football. Tell us about how you started this project?
I have been actively engaged in my private club “Arlan” composed of both, veterans and youth. We once laid a football pitch at CSKA sports base (edit. between Satpaev and Furmanov streets). This is a social project for children involving over 600 young players. After analyzing the situation in the city, we came to the conclusion that we need a league of youth football for the private club and for the Youth Sports School. Because we have a lot of private teams but have no competitive processes and championships. Not even for domestic clubs!
There is a tournament “Bylgari Dop”, but it’s a mass tournament which covers quite a large amount of participants – school students, i.e. not professional football players. So with friend Marat Abdildabekov (edit. Chief Director of IT-technologies of “Kazakhtelecom” JSC) we decided to start this project, which has since 2011 successfully developed. To date, the project covers almost 2,000 people and almost 60 teams. The League has become so popular that now in addition to League “A” there will be League “B”. 12 teams of 5 ages will participate in the first league and 8 teams of 5 age categories in the second. We expect the participation of about 100 teams. They will measure against each other every Saturday and Sunday, because it’s necessary for their skills.
The latest award ceremony dedicated to the 5th anniversary of the league has gathered about 800 people, children and parents. What could be more memorable for a child when he goes up the stage and receives a prize and a medal from football veterans. Even if he does not become a professional player, it is still educationally important for any child. Having accepted the invitation of FFK to become Vice President on the development of youth football, I and Marat with other colleagues set out to scale this project under the auspices of the Federation for entire Kazakhstan. We already have an agreement with eight regions, and by the end of 2016 I want to create such a format where villages will play with the villages, districts will play with the districts, and the winners will then compete in the finals in Almaty or Astana. The winners of the tournament will be sent abroad. I believe that through the mass youth football, we could really raise the level of our championship.
— By the way, there were a lot of talks about the absence of “Kairat” players in the competition…
…they did not participate in the beginning, but over time they’ve shown their interest and are willing to participate in the league. This year we will have the participation of FC “Kairat” which is a great honor and glory of our league. At the same time, we cannot accommodate all 5 branches, so only two of them will play. It is clear that every coach wants to experience the results of their work, particularly in a competitive fight, but everyone should understand that places are limited. It should be noted that the ultimate goal of any tournament is to achieve a good result, and talented players have to demonstrate themselves to get into FC “Kairat”. For other children it serves their skills, health and an incentive for moving further in their studies.
– A question for you as a football fan. The process of appointment of Head coach of the national team has been quite delayed, and there are disputes in favor of either foreign or domestic experts. Who you personally support?
We need to understand that we have good local coaches, but maybe it makes sense to invite a foreigner so that our experts could adopt best practices, knowledge and technologies. It is no secret that foreign schools are much advanced, and therefore, in my opinion, such formula is more profitable. For example, Jose Mourinho in “Port” was an assistant coach and then became prominent, while local talents were also raised. Or take, for example, Cacau, the Brazilian coach of futsal club “Kairat” and Kazakhstan’s national team, with whom we have recently won bronze medals of the European Championship. I believe that our Academy needs to invite foreign experts and appoint out promising young coaches as their assistants, so they adopt necessary skills.
– I agree that our football will not go to a new, higher level, if the clubs are not private. Do you think that football is now ready to go into private hands? Or any form of public-private partnership?
In principle, it’s a ready model to use and some of the guys may wish to purchase a club, but for many businessmen it is a very expensive pleasure. In Europe it is a profitable business, but here it involves only those who really loves football and just wants to fund some clubs. The fact is that we don’t have good stadium attendances, advertising, merchandising, etc. Although, of course, it’s possible for the football to go in private hands, but it takes time. I think people will start investing when they see successful outcomes, both for the club and for the business.
– In my opinion, one of the most successful football projects in the country was club “Tsesna”. A lot of big football players came out of it. Your investments still serve towards mass football, but do you have any plans to create a similar structure, an Academy?
I talked to the heads of the city administration about how to take under management one of the sports facilities. Because we have infrastructure issues, and for the football city league and other sports events we need playgrounds. Such projects are difficult to pay off, but for sponsors and football fans having their own Academy is a good idea, and I do have it. A while ago, I wanted to implement it at the CSKA stadium. But CSKA is a public institution and since no public-private partnership laws existed at the time, there were some rough edges and participation in such projects was impractical. But if this model is to be carried out now on the basis of PPP and on favorable conditions for us, where we can fully manage the project, then we will consider this idea.