By Timur Kamashev
The Kazakh football authorities have ushered in the new year with a series of reforms aimed at raising the standard and integrity of the sport in the country.
Important progress has been made off the field in the past month with the newly formed Independent Board of Kazakh Referees (IBKR) and National Football League (NFL) council both introducing measures to bring Kazakh football into line with UEFA standards.
Impartiality and independence
The IBKR aims to ensure the impartiality and independence of referees, as well as helping improve their working conditions. Working in conjunction with the Football Union of Kazakhstan (FSK), it will be responsible for paying referees, who had previously been renumerated by the clubs, leading to accusations of corruption.
Meanwhile, the NFL council - a board comprising Superliga club presidents and representatives of the FSK Competition Committee - has created a new auditing commission to introduce financial transparency into the Kazakhstan championship and implement UEFA and FIFA financial regulations.
The development of Kazakh football remains our main objective," said NFL director Kairat Adambekov. "That can only be achieved with our clubs operating in line with UEFA club licensing standards. This is our priority."
Other changes agreed include increasing the number of foreign players permitted per squad from five to seven, although still only five can play simultaneously, and introducing a one-match suspension after four yellow cards rather than two.
FC Kairat Almaty and Kazakhstan captain Samat Smakov has been voted the country's player of the year for 2004. The 26-year-old midfield player led Kairat to the title last season as well as captaining the national team in their first FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign as a UEFA member nation. "It's nice that our work is appreciated," Smakov said. "It makes our efforts worthwhile."
Kairat, meanwhile, travelled to Moscow for the Commonwealth Cup on 8 January. The squad will train on artificial surfaces in preparation for the indoor tournament. The Kazakh champions have been drawn in Group A with Estonia's FC Levadia Tallinn, FC Dinamo Minsk from Belarus and the Russia Under-19 team.
"Our minimum task is to get through to the next round," Kairat general manager Ermek Sarlybaev said. "With only one team qualifying it will be a tough task, but we hope for success and will continue to work to reinforce the squad."
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