The historic triumph of their national team in a recent international sporting event has brought the people of Afghanistan together – cutting across religious, regional and ethnic differences – and promises a bright future for the country that loves its sport
Sport is considered a universal language and a powerful tool to espouse the cause of peace, stability, understanding and tolerance. It bridges the divide between boundaries, cultures and people, and creates an atmosphere of peaceful existence, social cohesion and economic prosperity. It also helps to bring together people within the country, cutting across religious and ethnic divide. Although sport alone cannot replace political diplomacy in resolving simmering conflicts, but it can effectively provide healing touch and help in peace-building exercises.
For the war-weary youth of Afghanistan, battles on the sports field have replaced battles in the mountains. For majority of them, it is an expression of their freedom and free will. When the national Afghan football team or cricket team is pitted against any another country, the whole nation rallies behind them, forgetting their religions and ethnicities. The rallying cry is the victory for their home team.
In recent times, after footballers, cricketers and taekwondo athletes brought laurels to the country, people have become more interested and crazy about their sport stars.
In September this year, Afghanistan National Football Team (ANFT) created a history of sorts. They defeated crowd favourites India to clinch SAFF Championship in Kathmandu Nepal. The historic victory brought great joy to people in Afghanistan and turned the players into overnight celebrities.
Battles on the sports field
have replaced battles in the mountains
On the course to finals, Afghan team beat Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Their match against Maldives ended on a draw, by virtue of which they secured a place in the semi-finals of the big tournament.
All the victorious players were felicitated by the government. Basir Ahmad Faqiryar, goalkeeper of the team, was rewarded with 200,000 USD by President Hamid Karzai for his heroics in the tournament.
Many cabinet members of the Afghan government, members of National Assembly and some football enthusiasts had gone all the way to Nepal to cheer for their national players.
Dr. Farooq Wardak, Minister of Education; Dr. Omar Zakhelwal, Minister of Finance; Wais Ahmad Barmak, Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development; Shukria Barikzai, member of Wolesi Jirga and Ustad Masood, Professor at Kabul University witnessed the rip-roaring final encounter between Afghanistan and Indian.
A total number of eight South-Asian countries including Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh and Nepal took part in the widely-watched tournament.
Social media was abuzz with congratulatory messages for the triumphant Afghan team. Facebook and Twitter was flooded with messages and pictures posted by Afghans from all over the world, who reveled in the victory of their national team.
The skyline of Kabul city was lit with gunfire to celebrate the victory. This time, the barrage of bullets that went up in the misty Kabul air conveyed the message of joy and peace, not war and mayhem. It brought the entire country together as they raised the toast for their champion team.
Upon their arrival in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai, members of the National Assembly, ministers and other high ranking officials of the government welcomed the players with garlands and bouquets.
Afghan team had reached the finals of SAFF tournament last year as well, but that time India prevailed after scoring four goals. Afghan team’s goalkeeper was red carded and taken out of the game mid-way that dented their chances to bring glory to the nation. This time, they executed their plans well and romped home victorious.
After the victory, the streets of Kabul were flooded with football fans jumping in joy and bursting firecrackers. All the people, old and young, drowned in that sea of happiness.
Afghanistan started playing football in 1922 and was registered as member of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) in 1948.
Prior to the SAFF Championship, Afghanistan played a friendly game with Pakistan in Green Stadium, which was supported by FIFA. The main aim of the match was to strengthen the relationship between two countries and use football as a medium to explore channels of mutual interest and cooperation.
It was the first time Afghanistan hosted such a big sporting event after years of civil wars and political uncertainty. The last match was played between Afghanistan and Pakistan national football teams in Ghazi Stadium of Kabul about 36 years ago. Afghanistan won the match quite convincingly.
The SAFF victory was made more special by social networking sites. “I am very happy to see our youth on TV, winning or losing is not important for me,” posted Hafizullah Maroof, Afghan journalist on his Facebook page, quoting an elderly Afghan man. “Whether this football match makes our relationship with Pakistan good or not, but it has united Afghans, all Afghans were only praying for Afghanistan and Afghan players, they were all Afghans,” wrote another Afghan journalist on his Facebook page.
Afghan national team is perched at 132nd position in the FIFA rankings. Prior to SAFF victory, it was at 139th position, jumping 7 spots. The road ahead looks bright for the team, as more Afghans, cutting across various differences, get behind their team.
After the victory, the streets of Kabul were flooded with football fans jumping in joy and bursting firecrackers