KAZAN: On Friday, the uniqueness that is Kazan bid goodbye to the 2018 World Cup. As fans piled out of the Kazan Arena — designed to look like a water lily floating next to the Kazanka river — the city’s administrators were gearing up for another World Championships, albeit on a smaller scale. The 2018 Beach Handball World Championships, which will start a week after the final, may be a blip on the radar compared to the World Cup.
But for ambitious Kazan, which is seeking to add credibility to its self-proclaimed tag of ‘Russia’s sports capital’, every little thing counts. Until a few years ago, the city that the keywords ‘Russia’ and ‘sports’ brought to the non-Russian’s mind was Sochi, because of the Winter Olympics and the annual Formula One race. But slowly, Kazan is usurping that spot with the sheer number of sporting events it is hosting.
Over the last five years, it has staged the World University Games in 2013, the European Badminton Championships and the World Fencing Championships in 2014, the FINA World Aquatic Championships in 2015, the World Curling Championships, the European Judo Championships and the European Team Badminton Championships in 2016 and the Confederations Cup in 2017. It also hosts the annual Kazan Open, which is part of the ITF Women’s Circuit and the ATP Challenger Tour. Kazan clearly is a city out to forge a reputation. It takes only a bus ride across the city to see the results of these endeavours.
Barely a kilometre away from the railway station is the Central Stadium that their biggest football club Rubin Kazan used to play in before moving to the Kazan Area in 2014. Across the Kazanka river is the KAI OLIMP Cultural and Sports Complex that was built for the 2013 Universiade. On the way to the Kazan Arena, you stumble upon the Taftnet Arena which is home to city’s popular ice hockey team, the Ak Bars. Right next to the World Cup stadium entrance, there is the stylishly designed Water Sports Palace and outside the city, the Kazan Tennis Academy stands, with its 26 courts. “Kazan loves its sports,” says Kamilia Iaushova, a city resident.
“The ice hockey team Ak Bars is really popular as is the volleyball team VC Zenit-Kazan. Rubin Kazan also has been successful recently. Hosting so many events has given us a lot of great infrastructure and a lot of experience. For example, by the time the World Cup came along, a lot of people working on this from here had already worked on many international events and knew what it was like. “But above everything, hosting these events has allowed us to showcase our beautiful city,” she says. “I don’t have the numbers but there is no doubt that the influx of tourists over the last few years has increased a lot.”
The World Cup has been the highest point on the map so far for Kazan, but that may not be the case for long. A couple of years ago, Tatarstan’s sports minister and the city’s mayor made public an ambitious plan to bid for the Summer Olympics. A lot of the infrastructure required is already in place thanks to events already hosted and it is not such a far-fetched idea. It may only be a matter of time before the sporting world’s eyes are locked on Ka-zan once again.