Afghan sport continues to reach new highs

Whether it is football, cricket or rugby, Afghanistan shows no sign of struggling to unite when it comes to sport.

The national Afghanistan rugby team ahead of the 2013 Asian Sevens Series, India Sevens [Al Jazeera]

This weekend Afghanistan are to participate in the 2013 HSBC Asian Sevens Series, India Sevens, in Mumbai, India.

This will be the second time Afghanistan appear in the Asian Sevens Series after gaining associate membership of the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) in November 2011. The event is a major rugby competition and includes teams from Japan, Philippines, Chinese Taipei, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Sri Lanka ,Thailand, UAE, Hong Kong, Malaysia, China, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Afghanistan find themselves in Pool E where they will face Iran, Pakistan and the host nation India.

This is a landmark moment for Afghanistan’s rugby players, who will be able to chart their progress against some of the region’s best teams. 

However, it is not just in rugby where Afghanistan are growing in influence and success. 

Just a week ago, Afghanistan won their cricket series against Kenya in the UAE. The win gave Afghans plenty to smile about as it saw the war-torn country qualify for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand for the first time. 

Afghanistan’s appearance in the 50-over showpiece is a new high for the nation, who have been placed in Group A and will face cricket powerhouses England, Sri Lanka and Australia.

But the nation’s successes do not stop there. In the field of football Afghanistan have also excelled.

On September 11th 2013, they broke India’s domination of the South Asian Cup with an impressive 2-0 win over the two-time defending champions. This win gave the 9/11 date another meaning for Afghans – one based around sport and not the collapse of the Twin Towers. In fact, Afghans will now remember the new 9/11 as a milestone victory in the field of football.

While football has been played for centuries in Afghanistan, the nation only became an International Cricket Council affiliate member in 2001. Rugby is even younger and is only in the third year of its birth.

       Winners of the Afghan Super 15s League (Kabul Cup) celebrate with their prize [Al Jazeera]

The reason for the growth of rugby in our nation is the decline of our national game, buzkashi. A cross between polo and rugby, few are now able to afford to buy horses. This has opened the doors for rugby, which will soon be one of the most played sports in Afghanistan.  

The Afghanistan Rugby Federation has already done a lot to boost development. One of the major events the ARF organised was the Afghan Super 15s League, The Kabul Cup – this featured four qualified teams and the event was the first of its kind. 

The main reason for the event was to find talented players and provide them with the opportunity to meet each other and gain experience. The final match of the event was played on 20th September 2013 at Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium; the event was sponsored by the British Embassy in Kabul.

Afghan National Rugby Squad Captain, Sayed Mustafa Sadat, said the event gave players the opportunity to compete in more matches and gain technical experience.

While there are concerns in the minds of the Afghan people over political stability and the economic position of the country, one thing is very clear, SPORT WILL find a way to succeed since it is a tool for peace, prosperity and brotherhood.

The Afghanistan Rugby Federation is doing its best to increase the number of people playing rugby. We are witness to the fact that none of the groups, including Islamists, warlords, technocrats, politicians and defeated former runners are against the development of sport in Afghanistan. In fact, some of them have very good development ideas.

This really gives us hope that we can use rugby to bring about cultural change and democracy regardless of who wins the coming elections.

Gender equality

As the CEO of the Afghanistan Rugby Federation (ARF) and founder of rugby in Afghanistan, I am proud of the efforts now being made to introduce rugby to school girls. Historically, girls in Afghanistan have not played buzkashi, but they will be playing rugby soon. 

On 11 June 2013, we gathered an estimated 600 girls at a Kabul girls’ school. We distributed leaflets and explained rugby to them and we are now providing rugby training in one of the girls schools in Kabul and hopefully we will manage to expand the program into other girls school too.

Afghanistan Rugby Federation Chairman, Mohammad Mansoor Majid, said that Afghans have the physical attributes required at international level and we hope to have noticeable victories in Pool E and impress the crowd and organisers at the 2013 HSBC Asian Sevens Series.

The Afghanistan National Rugby Squad left Kabul for Delhi on Thursday. In addition to this competition, the team will also participate in the West Asia Rugby Tournament, which is being held in Dubai at the start of November.

We hope that through these competitions, enthusiasm for rugby and other sports in our nation will continue to grow.

The signs are positive, but we need to work hard to keep up with other nations, who have been in the game for much longer than us. 

Asad Ziar is the Chief Executive Officer of the Afghanistan Rugby Federation & The Founder of Rugby in Afghanistan.

You can follow him on Twitter: twitter: @asadziar. Or email if you have any questions about rugby in Afghanistan.

Source: Al Jazeera