Uzbeks show how to be good neighbours
With clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kygryz in Kyrgyzstan to the east, a raging Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan to the south east, and a country that until recently was run as a cult in Turkmenistan to the south, one could forgive Uzbekistan for being a little wary of its neighbours.
Fortunately, at least when it comes to football development, they are not.
With a third of its 28 million people under the age of 14, it is not surprising that Uzbekistan sees the virtue of youth development.
In the 1990s, the Uzbekistan Football Federation (UFF) established a series of youth training centres throughout the country, as the sheer number of youth was simply too great to be serviced by existing club academies.
These centres have already yielded impressive results with the Angren centre alone producing the likes of Alexander Geynrikh (Suwon Bluewings) and Ilyas Zeytullayev (ex-Juventus).
This concentration on development is yielding results. Uzbekistan have qualified for two under-20 World Cups, and in a few days will be attending their first ever under-17 World Cup in Mexico (after hosting the last two editions of the AFC under-16 championship).
It is no accident that the youngest referee at the World Cup 2010 and the youngest to officiate an opening match since 1934 was Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov.
In line with this youth focus, Uzbekistan bid for, and won, the right to host the 2012 under-20 Women’s World Cup.
However, Uzbekistan is one country that truly appreciates that football needs to be developed regionally, and that talk is cheap whilst development less so.
For the past four years, Uzbekistan has hosted, and largely paid for, the AFC’s Festival of Football for Central Asia which involves promising under-14 players from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
Each year, the UFF dig into their coffers and host the festival which includes the strengthening of regional capacity in refereeing, administration, physiotherapy and coaching, including an AFC ‘C’ Certificate Coaching Course.
As the Uzbekistan Daily reported, UFF General Secretary Sardor Rakhmatullaev said during the 2008 tournament, “The festival not only inculcates values of fair play and competitiveness in young children but also teaches them how to communicate with each other.”
“Off the pitch, these get-togethers also help in cultural exchanges and promotes the world view of football without boundaries.”
A noble sentiment, and one that the Uzbeks are prepared to match with action and money.
Not bad for a nation who only gained independence 20 years ago and who live in a decidedly rough neighbourhood. Not bad at all.
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