The last time you heard of Kazakhstan, it might have been from Borat Sagdiyev, the fictitious Kazakh journalist played by Sasha Baron Cohen in the movie Borat.
Cohen’s racist and sexist performance was an unbelievable hit a couple years ago, yielding $260 million at the box office on an $18 million budget.
While the government of Kazakhstan initially threatened to sue Cohen for his inaccurate portrayal of their country, government leaders eventually backed off when they were convinced that the country did receive a boost from all the publicity associated with the movie.
Today, Kazakhstan is in our face again in the name of Lance Armstrong. Armstrong’s team -– currently competing in the Tour De France -- is backed by Samruk-Kazyna, a holding company that consists of Kazakhstan’s assets and its development fund. The company manages KazMunayGas (gas company), Kazakhstan Temyr Zholy (national railway), Kazpost (national mail), Air Astana (national airline) and ENRC (Eurasian Natural Resources Corp), among others.
The jerseys Armstrong and his teammates wear feature Astana in the middle with the Kazakh flag, Air Astana on the sleeves, Kazakhmys Corporation (mining and metals company) on the shoulder and ENRC down the side.
Kazakhstan’s tourism and sport minister said the deal was done as a result of the team’s “prestige of our state,” but because of the rather strange sponsorship, it’s hard to figure out just how much is at stake should Armstrong –- who is in a virtual tie for first place through five stages –- win it all again.
Sure, Armstrong once wore the logo of the United States Postal Service, but is there any reason to believe that revenues for Kazakhstan’s mail service will increase if the American wins in France?
And how about boosting tourism to Kazakhstan, whose first go at cycling didn’t turn out well when the team they sponsored in 2007 failed a drug test in the Tour De France and were banned from the race until this year.
It turns out Air Astana, the national airline, doesn’t even have flights from the United States or France.
If Kazakhstan really wants to make a big play, maybe they should insist that if Armstrong wins that the French play the Kazakh national anthem while he’s on the final podium.