The Uzbekistan Government appears to be distancing itself from a national ban on billiards clubs that has infuriated and baffled players. Although police and tax-service officers have closed down the Uzbekistan Billiards Federation, the Uzbek President’s office denies any connection with the ruling, saying such matters are the preserve of local administration. Meanwhile, the local government of the Uzbek capital of Tashkent acknowledges the crackdown, explaining that it came after billiard clubs systematically flouted a 1998 city regulation that requires all entertainment establishments to close by midnight. However, it cannot explain why a local government ruling should apply nationwide.
Uzbekistan Billiards Federation suspects the city authorities imposed the ban for purely financial motives. They say clubs will in future require licences and this system may encourage some officials to demand bribes.
The decision comes at a particularly unfortunate time, as the International Olympics Committee has just agreed to include the sport in the next Games. Uzbekistan boasts an excellent track record in the sport. Dmitry Khan won the world championships in 1995 and Rustam Usmanov came third in the same competition six years later. ‘Now our players don’t have anywhere to train,’ complained Bakhrom Sadykov, President of the Billiards Federation. ‘If we live in a democracy, why can’t we play a game we enjoy?’
The ban has been likened to neighbouring Turkmenistan’s bizarre decision to prohibit opera and ballet.