Turkmenistan to host leg of world windsurfing cup

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan - The isolated and mainly desert Central Asian state of Turkmenistan will in July be the unlikely host of the perma-tanned and shades-wearing stars of windsurfing when it hosts a leg of the world windsurfing cup for the first time, state media said Friday.

The competition will take place from July 1-6 on the Caspian Sea in the resort of Avaza, which Turkmenistan has been seeking to expand greatly in the last years, the Neutral Turkmenistan daily reported.

The date was also confirmed on the website of the Professional Windsurfing Association (PWA). The event will be for men and women in the slalom discipline.

The event is being held in Turkmenistan after an agreement between the PWA and the Turkish company Polimeks which is carrying out much of the petro-dollar funded construction across the country.

"Around 100 sportspeople are expected from over 40 countries and also a large group of representatives of foreign media," the state-controlled Neutral Turkmenistan gushed.

"Live television coverage is planned, including on the Internet," he added.

Covered mostly in desert and one of the most isolated countries in the world, ex-Soviet Turkmenistan must be one of the most unlikely choices ever made for a world windsurfing event.

In joining the circuit, Avaza will rank with more established windsurfing destinations like Tenerife, Fuerteventura or Sylt in Germany.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has made stabs at reform and greater openness in recent years after taking over Turkmenistan after the death in 2006 of the sometimes wildly eccentric former dictator Saparmurat Niyazov.

Yet the holding of any international event in energy-rich Turkmenistan is a hugely rare occasion and its biggest gathering of foreigners has until now tended to be an annual oil and gas conference.