Unlike my colleague, Thomas Ruttig (see the other blog: ‘X-Factor Football’), I wasn’t an under-14 champion at soccer. Indeed, after a brief flirtation with the sport in my early teenage years, I came to the conclusion being a football fan is one of the dullest past-times on the planet. So, for me, one of the many wonderful things about Afghanistan has always been the lack of televised sport and not having to endure boring conversations about matches and teams. I wrote the following radio report for the BBC during the 2002 World Cup when Afghanistan was a hell on earth for the die-hard fan – and an oasis of normality in a world gone football mad.
(Presenter’s Cue) While much of the world is consumed watching the football World Cup in Japan and Korea, there are still a few soccer-free zones left in the world. One of them is Afghanistan. Watching television is no longer an illegal activity, as it was under the Taleban – but it’s not yet a national past-time – making Afghanistan a nightmare location for the many foreign journalists and aid workers who are also football fans. But as Kate Clark reports, all that could be about to change in the capital, Kabul, at least. [Well, my prediction came right – eventually and unfortunately.]
‘I prowled the streets,’ said one Irish aid worker, ‘but I couldn’t find anywhere to watch the match. She was really quite distressed – having missed Ireland play Cameroon in the World Cup and realising too late that taking up a job in Afghanistan during June 2002 could have its downside. A group of British engineers [at the BBC] were also regretting taking up jobs here. They’d [shamelessly] surfed the internet – at four pounds a minute on a satellite telephone – and managed, eventually, to find an Italian channel showing the Ireland-Cameroon game, only to discover at the last minute that it was encrypted. Another football fan, the overworked Brazilian spokesman for the United Nations, said he’d just given up trying to watch any matches in the face of what seemed insurmountable odds. British peace-keeping troops in Kabul [ISAF 1] were more lucky – they saw England play Sweden screened in the grounds of their headquarters [formerly the Military Club, in Shashdarak. I was persuaded to go along to see the match and fell asleep – an indication of my levels of patriotism or native interest in football, I was not sure.]
Most Afghans don’t have electricity, let alone television sets, but even if you do have a TV, you also need a dish antenna and a de-coder to have any chance of seeing the football. No wonder watching televised sport is not a national pastime. But now a French media aid agency is trying to show matches on a giant screen at the national stadium in Kabul. [What happened to this, I can’t remember, but I do recall RTA showing a few matches later on in the competition. There were complaints that they only showed the first half of one of the matches.]
Afghanistan’s status as one of the few football [watching – the editor(1)] free zones left in the world could be about to go. Even so, this is still a relatively safe haven for those who don’t like soccer. Conversations at work or home are not yet monopolised by who scored how many against whom. Many Afghans don’t seem to know the World Cup is going on.
(1) Of course, Afghans continued playing football even during the Taleban days (see our other blog here: XXX and earlier reporting here and here).
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020