The first Afghan Rugby Club team – Kabul United RFC – will play a series of matches against rugby clubs from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Uzbekistan, India, the United Kingdom and New Zealand at the biggest ever sport festival in Pakistan this week.
The Punjab International Sports Festival includes the Indo-Pak games and the deaf and dumb Dosti Cup as 1,381 athletes from 24 countries appear in baseball, football, fastball, touchball (male and female), Jiu-Jitsu and kabaddi events.
The five-day event is one of the biggest sporting events in Pakistan this year.
The Afghan players, who made the crossing to Pakistan through the Torkham border on Monday, are excited to be in Pakistan and look forward to playing in peace with other peace loving nations.
The participation of an Afghan rugby team means a lot to the Afghanistan Rugby Federation. It is a big step for development of the sport and will certainly encourage other rugby clubs to do more to be entitled for foreign tours.
Kabul United was formed less than a year ago, but interest in the sport is quickly spreading, not just in Kabul, but in this whole war-torn country.
Following cricket’s lead
Afghanistan has developed a reputation for its cricket after winning the World Cricket League Division 3 tournament in 2009 and qualifying for the Twenty20 World Cup. Although cricket is still a relatively new sport in Afghanistan, it is increasing in popularity and now players hope the same will happen for rugby.
It is clear rugby is getting more popular not only in Afghanistan but in Asia which has seen a recent surge of interest from the Middle East and the Islamic world. Dubai has built a specialised academy for rugby players and now hosts tournaments, while unions have been set up in the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Qatar.
Afghanistan’s international side may not have showed particularly well at the third and final leg of the HSBC Asian Rugby 7s in October, in Mumbai, but momentum is building, and the game is developing. This is being done by promoting club rugby and by showing the world Afghans have the best physiques for playing and are not simply a struggling nation.
The Afghan people have started to worry about what will happen when NATO departs but the Afghanistan Rugby Federation is optimistic that attitudes towards rugby will remain strong and that each province will continue to develop the sport.
It has been said that in the absence of war, society looks to sport to fulfill its combative nature. However, the relationship between war and sport goes far beyond the similarities of winning and losing. In fact, sport and war has throughout history proved to have a much more symbiotic relationship.
With very limited resources, the Afghanistan Rugby Federation does face problems but is as ever committed to taking this great game of sport and introducing it to every Afghan.
As part of the federation, I am thankful to the Pakistan Rugby Union (PRU) especially secretary Khurram Haroon for his continuous cooperation and assistance.
We now look forward to others coming forward to help us develop rugby and promote the message of peace through sport.
Asad Ziar is the Chief Executive Officer at the Afghanistan Rugby Federation. You can follow him on Twitter: @Asadziar
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