Former Olympic Gold medallist and President of the Astana Presidential Professional Sports Club (PPSC), Bakhtiyar Artayev, tells us what it’s like being on the other side of the ropes.
How excited are you about organizing these Team Finals?
Since I retired from boxing in 2008 I have been working on the other side of events, by which I mean that now I am responsible for managing them, rather than competing in them. Previously I worked as the head of a regional Tourism and Sports Department and now I’m working as the President of the Astana Presidential Professional Sports Club (PPSC). So I have already had quite a lot of experience in sports event management. However, it feels really exciting and challenging at the same time to be in charge of this event.
For me, as a former boxer, it definitely feels amazing to be managing such a prestigious event as a WSB Team Final. I really hope we will stage a great Team Finals and we are working hard on making it happen right now.
Why is it important for a country like Kazakhstan to get associated with such events?
It is a great festival, a real celebration. Boxing fans worldwide are looking forward to the WSB Finals, as are the boxers themselves. I am confident that it is crucial for Kazakhstan to be associated with such an important event as the WSB finals as it generates a fantastic level of motivation for our young boxers who are out there representing their country.
How involved is the President himself in such projects?
When the PPSC was created the President had entrusted these responsibilities to us and now he relies on us to organise this event as well. I feel that I am really lucky to have an opportunity to be working on the WSB Finals together with the Kazakhstan Boxing Federation, which is headed by a very talented manager: Mr Kulibayev. The event is of huge importance and therefore we are working as a team to accomplish the task.
You have invested in many different sports. How important is boxing in your portfolio?
Yes, that is right; PPSC has brought together a variety of elite sports under a single Astana brand giving equal importance to each of them. At the end of the day, we aim to promote the image of the Kazakh Republic in international sports without accenting on any sport in particular, but rather promoting the Astana brand. I should mention of course that I am a former boxer, but I don’t give preferential treatment to boxing or differentiate between it and our other projects.
Tell us more about the venue of these Team Finals, the Saryarka Velodrome.
The Velodrome is one of the country’s crowning jewels; in fact it’s a major attraction as it is such a unique venue. It meets all the necessary requirements to hold large events such as the World Cycling Championships. That is why we are really proud to be hosting the WSB Team Finals here. Fans will not only witness some truly outstanding boxing bouts, but they will also get a chance to discover our fantastic Velodrome itself and to feel the incredible atmosphere in it.
As a former Olympic champion do you ever feel the urge to get in the ring with these guys?
Frankly speaking, I feel like I had enough of that urge after my 15 year long career in boxing. At the same time I am really grateful to boxing since everything I have acquired in my life is thanks to the sport. Nonetheless, I admit there is sometimes a “50×50 wish” – my mind against my body. Sometimes I get that desire, a kind of urge for boxing, but that is just in my mind, my body doesn’t want it anymore.
I have changed during the last few years, I have had different experiences and I realise that I now have different needs. Different things make me happy now compared to five years ago and my whole approach to life has changed. This is to say that I am twice as happy now in the role of a boxing fan and aa supporter of our team, rather than be boxing myself. That role satisfies me 100 % right now.
Which one of these finalists would you least like to box against and why?
The Ukrainian team is full of Olympic stars, who are all excellent and strong boxers. I would even say that the Ukrainians have recently overtaken former powerhouse boxing nations like the Cubans or Russians. So I can’t pick anyone of them out in particular. There are lots of great boxers in the team and it has a great captain in Lomachenko. Therefore we are well aware of how difficult it will be to compete with Otamans. However our team is ready for this challenge and they will fight till the very end.
Do you still train at all? If so how do you manage to fit it around your busy work schedule?
Like any former athlete, I am now dependent on sports. If I do not have an opportunity to train for several days, I start suffering muscular pain. So I go in for sports all the time. To tell the truth though, in the five years since I gave up boxing, I have never ever touched a punch bag. But I started to play football. Of course, for me it is more of an opportunity to run around a bit, rather than reaching a serious level. I also try to visit a fitness club and workout at least three times a week, usually after 8pm when I get my job done. And it is amazing how these 2-3 hours of training can fill me of energy after an exhausting working day. Sport gives me energy. It is a great remedy against tiredness.
How closely have you been following WSB the past three seasons?
Unfortunately, I had quite a busy schedule which together with my business trips often didn’t allow me to follow matches regularly. But during the last few weeks, I’ve tried to support the team as much as possible. And it is great to have the chance to watch matches not just on screen but by being there live. It allows me to help cheer up the boxers, to motivate them during their training sessions or in their changing rooms after their bouts or just to chat to them and provide them with some moral support.
Which boxers have impressed you the most in the past three seasons?
I would say that one of the most remarkable boxers, one who is always showing progress and constantly evolving bout after bout, is Sergiy Derevyanchenko. I’ve been enjoying watching his fights as he boxes faultlessly every time he gets in the ring. He has been consistently improving, which is why he has won the Individual Champion Title two seasons in a row. It is always a pleasure to watch his physical and technical performance in the ring.
What kind of event can we expect from these Team Finals?
I believe this event will be full of emotions. It will be an excellent show; a real celebration. We have the strongest line-up of boxers that we have ever seen qualify for the Finals this season, so I am absolutely confident that they will put on a great show.
Do you have any predictions as to who will win?
We truly hope that our team Astana Arlans Kazakhstan will get the victory, even if we are conscious that there is a chance we might get the opposite result.
By chance, the Team Finals coincide with one of the biggest national holidays, the Second World War Victory day, which is celebrated all over the country on May 9th. Therefore we already have two things to enjoy, so if Astana Arlans brings us the WSB victory we will have a triple celebration.
But at the end of the day, we know that as we say it here, only the strongest one will get a victory.