Sport as a tool for peace

The head of the Afghanistan Rugby Federation talks about encouraging sport against a background of conflict.

Paghman rugby team, Afghanistan
The Paghman rugby team, the first club team in Afghanistan [Asad Ziar]

The aim of the Afghanistan Rugby Federation is to support youngsters who participate in sport against a backdrop of violence, conflict and suffering.

The Federation does not make judgments about the war, or about any individual’s participation in the war, but simply hopes to encourage young people to do something positive, fun and competitive, in the hope that they will avoid becoming part of the violence and avoid the temptation of drugs.

Sport is a powerful tool to promote peace, tolerance and understanding, bringing people together across boundaries, cultures and religions. Its intrinsic values such as teamwork, fairness, discipline and respect are understood all over the world and can be utilised in the advancement of solidarity and social cohesion.

We aim to encourage these attributes within our young players, and people from around the globe are supporting us in our endeavours. Until recently we did not have supporters from any country but today we can say that there are many people willing to help us and even mobilise others to support us.

We do understand that sporting initiatives alone cannot stop or resolve conflict, but sport gives us an engaging and cost-effective medium for post-conflict relief work and peace building as well as future conflict prevention.

We do have some examples of the positive influence of sport that we can mention here; Japan suffered extensive damage in the second world war. Essential items such as housing and food were scarce and people struggled just to survive. However, even at this time of extreme poverty, sporting activities began to spring up nationwide. It was as if people’s eagerness to participate in sport, which had been suppressed during the war, suddenly exploded.

Afghans are not different from Japanese but we were playing sport during the wars and civil unrest too. Afghans always have respect for sport if opportunities are created for them.

Bringing stability

There were many projects and programs implemented by United Nations for bringing stability and peace.

The Disarmament, Demobilisation & Reintegration strategy is one such example. Through this method the UN managed to collect arms but could not mange to bring peace and stability because handing over the arms does not necessarily bring an end to conflict.

I have worked as a program supervisor in one of the UNICEF Demobilization & Reintegration for under-aged soldiers in Afghanistan and I have been to almost all the provinces, districts and even villages of Afghanistan.

One thing I noticed is that there were no social or sport activities designed for the reintegration of the participants, and that is one of the biggest reasons why today we can’t see peace.

Since peace building, as a field of study, lends itself to practical approaches that seek to address the underlying sources of violent conflict, it is surprising that despite knowing the value of sport, the role of sport in post-conflict peace-building remains poor, especially in grassroots models.

Sporting initiatives permit encounters in an environment where aggression can be controlled, regulated and transformed, with the aim of fostering reconciliation and respect between opponents.

On 28 November 2012 the UN General Assembly passed its latest Resolution on Sport, reaffirming the use of sport to bring about positive social change. The resolution, entitled “Sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace“, encouraged the use of sport as a vehicle to foster development and strengthen education, prevent disease, empower girls and women, promote the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities, and facilitate conflict prevention and peace-building.

But still we have not witnessed any changes in the design of programs implemented by the non-governmental and non-profit organisations in Afghanistan.

There are still provinces in Afghanistan with the population numbering in the millions but they do not have a single sports stadium. The facilities available for Afghan sportsmen and women are nothing compared to a stable country in the rest of the world, but still the ratio of the sportsmen and women is on the rise. It shows the interest of the Afghans that they love to play sports instead of fighting, especially, as we are seeing, the sport of rugby.

Force of change

One of the things I have come to appreciate most about rugby is its resemblance with Buzkashi (goat grubbing by horsemen), football and wrestling. All these three sports are the most popular sports in Afghanistan and some of the horsemen, footballers and wrestlers have already joined our Federation.

We are trying to introduce rugby as a force in bringing about cultural change and democracy in a social situation.

Today we can assure our supporters that we will be able to encourage the popularity of rugby and make it the most played sport in Afghanistan, but only if we get the support of the international community, since, as a new sport in Afghanistan, it is not possible to find sponsors for our events and training clinics inside and outside the capital city.

The cultural situation in Afghanistan must also be kept in mind. We receive calls from girls who want to play rugby and we want to develop a women’s rugby team, but of course women in Afghanistan still face discrimination from a cultural and social standpoint.

It will not be entirely groundbreaking if we start a women’s rugby team, since we have examples of the Afghan women’s cricket team and the women’s football team to follow, but soon the world will witness the foundation of our Afghan women’s rugby team. Sport allows us to create awareness about the issues of women’s participation in sport. Indeed sport works in the same way that art and philosophy work to pave the way for a huge shift in social thinking.

Looking forward

The Afghanistan national rugby squad is preparing itself for the UAE International 7s Tournament which hosted by the UAE Rugby Federation.

The tournament will be played over the weekend of March 15 and 16 at the Dubai Sports City.

The aim of the tournament is to provide developing teams with the opportunity to compete at an international level and aims to cater for teams who do not participate in the HSBC sponsored Asian Sevens Series. The participating Federations will be announced in the next few days.

Our national squad has been selected and has started training for the event. This tournament is the first of its kind for our team, but we expect to do our best. If we manage to get into the top three among the eight teams, this will boost the support from around the world to the development of rugby in Afghanistan.

The players should keep in mind that it is time to raise the name of their war-torn country and make the 30 million Afghans proud of them.

If you would like to be part of the development of rugby in Afghanistan, or find out more, please get in touch via email to

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

Twitter @asadziar

Source: Al Jazeera