Sports-Obsessed Turkmen President: Athletes Betrayed the Motherland by Not Winning at Olympics

The president of Turkmenistan is furious his athletes didn't bring home any Olympic medals.

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Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov loves sports. He loves them so much that last year, Turkmen state-run television showed off his athleticism by airing a compilation video of him playing basketball, soccer, volleyball, and ping pong — all in a matter of 34 seconds. And this year, he required all state employees to participate in early morning exercise routines for the entire month of April.

So it’s not exactly surprising that Berdimuhamedov’s furious that the nine Turkmen athletes he sent to participate in the Rio Olympics did not bring home a single medal to their sports-addicted head of state. He showcased that anger by broadcasting an exchange between himself and Kaakbay Seiidov, chief of the Turkmen sports committee, on state TV.

During the conversation, he threatened to fire Seiidov if he doesn’t “make good on these shortcomings in the near future.”

Berdimuhamedov is no stranger to Olympic failures. Turkmenistan has never brought home any medals from the games, including in the nine years that Berdimuhamedov has served as president.

But apparently he thought his personal encouragement of — and investment in — Turkmen athletes would make this year different.

“It’s disappointing that even with all the facilities provided, you could not justify the trust of the motherland,” Berdymukhamedov told Seiidov in the televised meeting.

Photo credit: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GettyImages

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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