Sports Diplomacy: Uzbekistan Ambassador Invites UK and Uzbek Cricketers for Talks

22 January 2024    

LONDONJan. 22, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- In what has become his trademark style, recently appointed Uzbekistan Ambassador Ravshan Usmanov today continued his high-energy round of get-acquainted meetings with key people in unusual fields by bringing together cricketers from the UK and from his homeland to discuss how their sport serves the bilateral relationship.

Amb. Usmanov, a graduate of the University of Birmingham, has spent his first six weeks as envoy to the Court of St James, exploring his nation's links with government, academia and business. But he has also been inviting spokesmen for more surprising corners of society to discuss their current relationships with Uzbekistan. This time he met:



-  Will Gaffney, founder and CEO of the UK cricket charity Bat for a Chance;
-  Omar Khan, chairman of Bat for a Chance;
-  Aziz Mihliev, chairman of the Cricket Federation of Uzbekistan
-  Fazliddin Ibodullaev, CEO of the CFU; and 
-  Alisher Gaybullaev, Under-19 Uzbekistan captain.



"Cricket in Uzbekistan?" Amb. Usmanov said in introducing an informal round-table discussion on sports diplomacy. "I first heard that we even played the sport not long ago and naturally I wanted to meet the people behind it. And here they are."

Mr. Gaffney founded Bat for a Chance just over four years ago as a self-described cricket-mad teenager living in Sussex. Since then the charity has collected cricket gear in the UK and distributed it to 16,500 men, women, and children across four continents, supporting more than 65 causes globally. Uzbekistan has become a major recipient.

Mr. Gaffney said, "Cricket, with its captivating ability to unite nations, possesses the profound capacity to dismantle barriers and provide access to sports for countless individuals which otherwise might not be being had. Collaborating with the Uzbekistan Cricket Federation is a source of immense pride for all of us at Bat for a Chance, and we are incredibly excited about the promising future ahead of cricket in the country and can't wait to further support the federation."



Mr. Mihliev founded the Cricket Federation of Uzbekistan in 2019, having been inspired by the sport while studying in India. A businessman, with an MBA from Warwick University, Mr. Mihliev says cricket is the fastest growing sport in Uzbekistan.

"Cricket is an awesome sport," Mr Mihliev said. "Besides its magnetic power bringing nations closer, it can have a massive impact on a country's social, economic even political welfare."

Uzbekistan registered the CFU in 2019, and in 2022,  became an associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC). Currently, 13 men's and six women's teams consisting of local and international (expats from cricket playing countries) players are active. The CFU has opened the first ever cricket grounds in the CIS with ICC-approved boundaries, pavilion and batting nets.

Inclusion of cricket in the 2028 Summer Olympics has already begun generating  unexpected results.  Interested athletes from 253 special Olympic and sports schools, and universities in Uzbekistan have begun forming cricket clubs. "This will definitely give a boost to cricket's future in Uzbekistan," Mr. Mihliev said. He believes that from the current 600 players the sport will very soon be played by 5,000-10,000 in Uzbekistan.

"We have high expectations of the UK helping Uzbek cricket rise quickly to professional levels," he said. "We are confident that with the UK's expertise and help, Uzbeks will soon be playing not only T20 but Test matches in the Oval with our British counterparts. We would like to urge the UK government to ally itself with the CFU at this early stage, before others jump in."

Both Mr. Gaffney and Mr. Mihliev paid credit to Sophie Ibbotson, a UK brand ambassador for the Uzbekistan Tourism Committee, for bringing them together. Ms Ibbotson was also present at the event. "Uzbekistan takes its sports very seriously, from a grassroots level," she said. "So sport is in the national curriculum, sports are offered to both girls and boys on an equal level. And then if children in the regular schools show aptitude for a particular sport, then they will be fed into one of the specialist schools such as the Olympic schools, which are then in turn feeders for the national teams for professional training," she said.



Mr. Mihliev said the growth of cricket in Uzbekistan is happening despite a number of obstacles, including shortages of equipment. Cricket balls, for instance, mainly come from India or Pakistan, but there are problems bringing them in by air or by land via Afghanistan. And while Uzbekistan could in theory manufacture its own bats, the ICC insists on the use of British-grown willow.

When it was half-jokingly suggested this might be a matter Amb. Usmanov could take up with his UK counterparts, he replied: "Yes, I think the British side would be quite interested in that because this is a kind of popularization of the English sport in Uzbekistan." He compared cricket's gradual migration around the world with that of the sport of polo.

"Polo was not common in Uzbekistan. Not at all. We would just watch it on TV. But as you know, it was invented on the territory of modern Uzbekistan, actually, and taken with the Mughul Emperor Babur in the 16th Century from the Fergana Valley in present-day Uzbekistan to India, and then from India to Britain."


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