A 17-year old member of the Kazakhstan junior national women’s volleyball team has found a remarkable amount of popularity online. Sabina Altynbekova’s newfound celebrity status that has transformed her into an internet sensation is not based on talent or athleticism but on sex appeal. While such popularity raises questions about the substance of some female sporting fans, the fact that she is a teenager may also bring issues of morality.
While the impact of social media is like a pandora’s box, her popularity has led to concerns with her coach Nurlan Sadikov. At the Asian Under-19 Championships in Taiwan, he called her a distraction. This was compounded by his remarks that the attendance was attributed to interest in only one player.
Of note, a Taipei newspaper took her popularity a step further. Measuring in at six-feet tall, the statuesque player was the subject of a ten-page photo spread. She has also advised the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail that the attention is becoming a little bit much. While her focus may be on volleyball, she may need to learn how to manage her popularity.
This rise in popularity is akin to Anna Kournikova, who was a household name despite before winning a tennis tournament. Kournikova’s looks may have supplied her with a significant popularity that led to endorsements and magazine articles, the distractions did not help her on-field performance.
Taking into account that Altynbekova has an Instagram account that features over 277,000 followers, the one silver lining is that she proves there is to more to the nation of Kazakhstan than the film Borat, which was not projected positively in the satirical film.
Should Kazakhstan qualify in volleyball for the 2016 Rio Summer Games, there is no question that Altynbekova shall be the focus of an even bigger level of attention. While the long-term of her athletic career shall be based on success and not sex appeal (lest becoming another footnote in female sporting history like Kournikova), there is one possibility where she may wish to try and utilize both aspects.
Beach volleyball has always been identified with sex appeal. Although the players that are successful (such as Misty May and Kerri Walsh) do so based on talent, it may help Altynbekova fade into the background. While she would always be identified as one of the more attractive beach volleyball players, it would also be a playing field where she played against other beautiful competitors, thus reducing any distractions.
While juggling her popularity may be a sad reality of her sporting future, she should not sacrifice her love of sport because of it. Currently, she has no choice but to ride out the storm. Tastes change frequently in the world of celebrity, especially with the impact of social media. In a year from now, there could easily be another young athlete that usurps her.