This article was produced in association with Ashgabat 2017
Ashgabat’s hosting of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games will represent a turning point for the host country according to Stephen Newport, the Australian major events expert who is Director of Games Operations.
Newport, who was chief operating officer for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup and lists the London 2012 Olympic Games, Doha Asian Games and Melbourne Commonwealth Games among his credits, arrived in Ashgabat a little over a year ago and said he was surprised and delighted by what he discovered.
“The city, with its gleaming white buildings and pristine streets was like nothing I had ever seen before and, when I started work, the warmth and enthusiasm of my colleagues from Turkmenistan was remarkable. Turkmenistan has never held an event of this scale and importance before and the eagerness of my local colleagues to learn and embrace the lessons of international best practice was fantastic,” he says.
“If you have people who are passionate about the job it makes it a whole lot easier and their enthusiasm is complemented by a strong sense of patriotism, which means that they are all committed to delivering the best possible Games for Turkmenistan.”
Like everybody who has visited Ashgabat’s Olympic Complex, Newport has nothing but praise for the scope and vision of a project which has delivered a collection of world-class facilities, many of which will debut during AIMAG.
Image: The people of Ashgabat take part in the 100 Days To Go Ceremony (Ashgabat 2017)
“They are out of this world,” he says. “Polymeks, which built the Ashgabat Olympic Complex, has done a great job and that makes it much easier when it comes to planning. We have had seven significant test events at various venues and the fact that the facilities are ready to go has meant that we have had free access to them which is extremely helpful in the build-up to the event. That’s something that I’ve never experienced before.
“Because all the facilities were built with staging major international events in mind, we found that few operational changes were needed and I think we have been blessed to come into a new facility and plan for the event.”
Newport says that the planning process for Ashgabat 2017 AIMAG draws on the experience of experienced international staff and local team members.
“I would say my role is about more than delivering the Games. It is about passing on the information and the theory of major event planning and management to the Turkmen team members and ensuring that they get the training and education they need to play a full part in ensuring the success of AIMAG. That will create a skill base which is an important part of the event’s legacy,” he explains.
Speaking in mid-June Newport said preparations were already at an advanced stage and that from the moment he arrived in Ashgabat he had been made aware of deadlines.
“The day I got here I noticed countdown boards and video screens around the city and on my first day at work they showed 465 days,” he says. “The countdown continues and I am confident that we will be ready to deliver a great event.
“One of the reasons that things have run smoothly is the support for the project throughout the country and throughout government. The President has given his commitment and support and we couldn’t really ask for better than that.”
The scale of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games makes it a significant organisational challenge. Ashgabat will welcome 4,000 competitors, and a further 2,000 officials from 65 delegations, along with representatives of the media.
And Newport is sure that it will not only be the competitors who love performing in Ashgabat’s state-of-the-art facilities. He’s sure that the Turkmen public will take the Games to their hearts.
IMAGE: Ashgabat is a thriving, modern city (Ashgabat 2017)
“This is an appropriate Games to start to launch Ashgabat’s facilities and event management skills on the world stage,” Newport says.
“After all, martial arts are incredibly popular in Turkmenistan and the main Indoor Arena, which has 15,000 seats, will host the wrestling discipline events and I am sure that it will be filled to capacity every day. Likewise, the 5,000-seat Martial Arts Arena will be packed. In test events, virtually every seat was taken.
“That level of enthusiasm is reflected in the Volunteer programme. That was a brand new concept yet the programme was over-subscribed in a very short time with around 11,000 people coming forward for what will be 8,000 or so places.
“There’s no concern about that enthusiasm drying up. In fact, the volunteers want to spend more time and do more training sessions than any other group I have been involved with.”
So exactly why is Newport so convinced that AIMAG will be a milestone for its host country?
“The thing is that this is the first time an event of this size has been held in the country and it shows that Turkmenistan is opening itself up to the world in new ways, which is important to the country and the way it is viewed by the rest of the world,” he explains.
“I remember being in Doha for the Asian Games in 2007 and I realised that before those Games many people didn’t even know where Qatar was. The Games had a major impact on global awareness and these Games can do the same for Turkmenistan.
“I am also sure that Turkmen athletes will do well and that will inspire local people who are already really excited about the prospect of seeing world class competition in their own capital city. I am sure that the long-term result will be very positive for sport in Turkmenistan and for the country in general.”
MAIN IMAGE: Ashgabat at night (Ashgabat 2017)