On the heels of horrible press from Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the glorious nation of Kazakhstan is planning to bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, presumably to offset some of the residual effects of Cohen’s slander. It’s seems that the boatloads of lawsuits filed against Cohen weren’t enough to cleanse Kazakhstan from the Borat stench.
While officials from the oil-rich Central Asian nation haven’t substantiated claims of “revenge” as the underlying reason for its planned bid, we’re just going to assume it’s true. And why wouldn’t we? Kazakhstan has gone from ashy to classy very quickly, especially if your measure of ashy to classy is based on the number of new, shiny, exquisite buildings you can see from the palace. You could also measure the many politicians and power brokers who’ve built up vast reserves of fuck you money during a post-independence period when it was (is) common to amass tons of private sector wealth while in public office. What better reason for such sudden power moves than revenge? Of course this is all about Borat.
Adilbek Zhaksybekov broke the 2026 bid news on Saturday while stepping down as the head of Kazakhstan’s Football Federation. And it isn’t as if he’s just an empty sports suit. Zhaksybekov stepped down from his soccer post to become the Mayor of Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital city. Previously, he has held positions as Kazakhstan’s Minister of Defense and Secretary of State, among other fancy titles. He knows the business of the nation intimately.
Zhaksybekov’s words shouldn’t be ignored. Kazakhstan is trying to make moves in the community. Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city and former capital city, is currently bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The 2011 Asian Winter games were hosted by Almaty and Astana. In short, they’re going for it -“it” meaning everything. Probably even the Super Bowl.
These moves are never easy to make, but they are noticeably easier to massage when power is centralized among a handful of people who’ve been in and around power forever. In Kazakhstan’s case, “forever” is since independence in 1991. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in power for over 20 years, since Kazakhstan’s independence, and is the type of guy to take a constitution calling for two-term limits for Kazakh presidents and somehow find a way to manufacture magical amendments allowing for indefinite re-election. In 2010, an amendment gave Nazarbayev “immunity from prosecution and made his family’s property effectively inviolable.” In short, he gets things done.
Since Kazakhstan’s independence from the Soviet Union, the Central Asian nation has invested heavily in infrastructure growth. And, to be fair, poverty rates have dropped from 47 percent of the population living below the poverty line in 2001 to 3% in 2013. UNESCO lists Kazakhstan first in its Education for All Development Index, which uses composite scores to rank nations by access to universal primary education, levels of adult literacy, quality of education, and gender equity access. While there’s plenty wrong to write about Kazakhstan (and there is), plenty suggests the nation is doing some things right. When Kazakhstan puts its mind to something, whether that’s toward immunity for those in power or making sure people can read, it seems to know how to get its ducks in order. That’s either wonderful or terrifying, depending what we’re talking about.
Given all of the money that’s floating around the country and relative freedom from consequences, it isn’t hard to imagine that it could build the necessary infrastructure to host the World Cup in 2026, should power brokers decide they want to go on a shopping spree. In fact, it would be the perfect long-term response to Borat. And certainly one of the things we’ve learned since Sacha Baron Cohen smeared Kazakhstan is that President Nazarbayev and his family will do what it takes to repair the image of their beloved homeland.
For instance, last year, Kanye performed at President Nazarbayev’s grandson’s wedding. I told you, they got it like that.
Kazakhstan is so getting back at Sacha Baron Cohen. It isn’t even funny how much they’re getting back at him.
See you guys in Kazakhstan in 2026.