Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

Kabuli Youth in Ramazan Nights: A Passion for Futsal and More

S Reza Kazemi 7 min

Under the growing fog of war in Afghanistan – ISAF just reported an increase of violence by 11 per cent – the Afghan youth are struggling to live normally and gain visibility nationally, let alone internationally. During the current month of Ramazan, futsal (1) outdoors and indoors has become particularly popular among a significant part of Kabul’s youth, with tournaments across the city going on well into the dead of night. AAN’s researcher S. Reza Kazemi visited some of these tournaments, talked to organisers and players and writes that futsal can mean much more than simply playing and having fun. It can also promote healthy living and contribute, although in a small way, to community solidarity and efforts for counter-narcotics and peace even if some of these initiatives are not seriously supported or encouraged by the Afghan government.

As the London 2012 Olympic Games, (2) another sports event, even though much more local and mundane, witnessed its opening ceremony on 27 July 2012: the second round of the nightly Ramazan futsal tournament among media organisations in Kabul. Hamid Rahimi, the only Afghan who has won the World Boxing Union title, was among the people who kicked the first ball in the tournament. In the first night, the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) (3) team beat the team of Negah TV with a score of 8:3 and Rah-e Farda TV team won against the 3TV team with 8:6 goals. The gymnasium vibrated with the hoots and claps of the spectators, including the organisers and youngsters.

Amanuddin Saidi, adviser to the Afghan Deputy Minister of Interior for Counter Narcotics, told AAN that the tournament is funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (the country where the current Olympic Games are going on), organised by the Ministry of Interior and Futsal Committee of Football Federation of the Afghan National Olympic Committee, hosted by the AUAF and played in the AUAF gymnasium. 17 teams are participating. (4)

The media futsal tournament, however, is not the only one at Ramazan nights in Kabul and wider Afghanistan. Wahidullah Wahidi, deputy head of the Afghan Football Federation, and Sayed Ali, head of the Afghan Futsal Committee, spoke to AAN about at least six more nightly futsal tournaments in Kabul, Herat and Nimruz. In Kabul city, the tournaments additionally include a 64-team (80-team, according to another account) privately organised tournament in the recently developed Omid-e Sabz Township that has been happening for two years, a new 24-team locally organised tournament in Khwaja Boqra in district 15 of Kabul city, another new privately organised tournament with over 50-team in Dasht-e Barchi, in the west of the capital, and a 54-team public tournament in Ghazi Stadium, Kabul’s only stadium, which has been happening for around six years and will be opened by the Afghan Futsal Committee on 30 July 2012. Ali added that public futsal tournaments have been organised in Herat for around three years and in Nimruz for two to three years now as well.

Additionally, one can enjoy watching children and youngsters playing futbal-e gol kuchak (football with small goals of about the size of goals in ice hockey) at night under both lamplight and moonlight on Darulaman Street, perhaps the most exquisite street of the capital Kabul, which ends in what now regrettably are the ruined Darulaman and Tajbeg Palaces.

Afghanistan is fast progressing in several sports fields, particularly cricket and taekwondo. The Afghan national cricket team, which enjoys huge government and business support, has made spectacular achievements in regional and global cricket games (see, for example, here). Taekwondo medalists Rohullah Nekpa and Nesar Ahmad Bahawi are the special hopes of the Afghans in the 2012 Olympic Games. Even Afghanistan’s national football team has climbed up six places to number 162 (out of 205) in the FIFA ranking list recently. That not only puts it well ahead of most of its regional rivals, including India (the current South Asian champion who beat Afghanistan 4:0 last December taking revenge for an Afghan victory in the earlier group stage), Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan but it also is better than our country’s place on the UN Human Development Index (172 of 184).

Although the futsal organisers, players and spectators can reach thousands of adolescents and youth in the capital Kabul alone and they might be taking their initial steps to find their way to regional and international titles in this sport, for now it seems they are inspired and motivated by other goals. Why do they do what they do until midnight under very bad conditions in Kabul? Can futsal mean much more and help tackle other evils confronting today’s Afghan society? Do futsal fans, as with all other sportspeople, receive the support they should from the Afghan government and people?

Some of the organisers and players AAN talked to play futsal obviously for mere entertainment, for adopting better and healthier lifestyles and for serving as role-models for Afghanistan’s predominantly young population(5). For the media, such tournaments can also be an instrument to attract larger audiences. Hussain Zamani, a technical staff member in the private Rah-e Farda TV, said he participated in the tournament for having entertainment and fun. Arash Yazdanpanah, sports officer in Ariana TV, told AAN that journalists did more mental than physical work and that they also needed sport activity, entertainment and diversity. Yasin Gholami, a technical staff member in Negah TV, said he gained weight when he was away from sports for two years. Ahmad Najafizada, an AUAF student, said he loved football so much that he even sometimes missed his classes to kick the ball. He added that many AUAF students, as with other school and university students in Afghanistan, have a special predilection for sports, such as football, volleyball and basketball.

But there are also larger objectives. ‘Narcotic drugs, terrorism and administrative corruption have forged a vicious cycle for Afghanistan; co-operate with us in your country’s fight against them for the purposes of peace and security’, read one of the several Ministry of Interior banners in the AUAF gymnasium. Several organisers and players talked to AAN about the role of sports and sportspeople in addressing Afghanistan’s social evils, such as social disconnect and disharmony, narcotic drugs addiction and even conflict. Baqer, who also works as media and communication officer in the Ashraf Ghani-led Transition Coordination Commission, said that the Afghan vibrant mass media – known perhaps as the most significant achievement of the Karzai government since 2001 – was not only about competition and rivalry, but also about friendship, camaraderie and solidarity and sports provided the context for serving these purposes. He added that sports can be the ‘harbinger of peace and stability’ in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as indicated in the ongoing Olympic Games. According to Musa Rafizada, a journalist in Rah-e Nejat newspaper, such events can foster media solidarity by creating a climate of friendship. He added that the media can then act as, and help to create, role-models, especially for the youth.

Saeedi told AAN that the Ministry of Interior views sports as an ‘effective way to combat narcotic drugs’ in addition to law enforcement and the provision of alternative livelihoods for farmers. (6) Emal Akbari, an Afghan public relations officer in the British embassy in Kabul who represented the embassy in the opening ceremony, said sports were a good step to fight narcotics and could act as an Afghanistan-wide campaign of countering narcotics and providing an alternative for drug addiction. Abdul Wahed Wahed, chief of staff in the Office of the Deputy Minister of Interior for Counter Narcotics, said:

There are hundreds of youth addicted to narcotic drugs in Afghanistan. These youth are in alleys, in markets, on streets and under bridges in Kabul city and elsewhere. They are drug addicts, they are unemployed and they are ruining their lives and with that the life of their society. If they do exercise and if they work, they can be saved from this scourge. We should be serious in fighting narcotics. Afghanistan is the place where the largest quantity of drugs is cultivated, produced and trafficked to the region and the broader world. Drugs are a major cause of terrorism and insecurity in our country.

At the same time, organisers complained that the Afghan government does not seriously support and even encourage the country’s sportspeople. Yasin Muhammadi, technical deputy head of the Afghan Football Federation, told AAN that the government officials were yet to understand the importance of sports and to encourage the youth to do sports. He added that there was only one stadium in Kabul, a city where around five million people live. Muhammadi believed that sports can have positive implications for stability and security in Afghanistan and remembered a football tournament he and his colleagues held in Delaram, Farah province, where football teams from the restive southern sections of the country participated and people laid down their arms to play or watch football. In addition, Wahidi told AAN that no senior state officials, including the president, vice-presidents and parliamentarians, have asked them about their problems and supported a more systematic identification and promotion ‘of the outstanding sports talents of the Afghan youth’. Despite this generalising criticism, specific and more prestigious sports, in terms of international success, such as cricket and taekwondo enjoy substantial government and business support and encouragement.

In the face of manifold challenges confronting them and their society, the organisers and players said they would continue their individual and team efforts for the promotion and development of sports, which are free from specific ideological leanings, because, as Rafizada said:

Sports have its fans around the world. Sports should specifically be promoted for the youth. If there are healthy youth, there will be a healthy society and a healthy society can better fight addiction, poverty and corruption.

(1) Futsal is a variation of outdoor football/soccer played in teams of 11; it is mainly played indoors (hence the name, from Portuguese futebol de salão, ‘indoor football’), with teams of twelve (ten players and two goalies); one goalie and five players are on the pitch. Teams can rotate the players in and out at any given time, similar to ice hockey.

(2) For information on Afghanistan’s participation and performance in the London 2012 Olympic Games, follow Afghanistan’s page in the 2012 Olympics section of the BBC. For general information, see Afghanistan’s corner in the website of the International Olympic Committee. Also see our previous AAN blog on Afghanistan’s delegation to and participation in the ongoing Olympics.

(3) The American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) is the Afghan equivalent of the American University of Central Asia (AUCA) in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek, the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) , the American University in Dubai (AUD), and the American University in Beirut (AUB), among others. The AUAF was established and opened in 2006 and it has ‘grown from an initial enrollment of 50 students to more than 1,700 full- and part-time students in 2012’.

(4) The major teams are: Ariana TV, AUAF, Khorshid TV, Negah TV, Nur TV, Maiwand TV, the Ministry of Interior, Rah-e Farda TV, Rah-e Nejat newspaper, Rushd News Agency, Tolo TV, Wakht News Agency and 3TV, according to Sayyed Mohammad Baqer, the announcer of the opening ceremony, who talked to AAN.

(5) According to UN estimates, the youth constitute around 70 per cent of Afghanistan’s over 30 million population.

(6) Afghanistan is by far the world’s largest producer of opium (82 percent of world production in 2011, much more than that of Myanmar, Laos and the rest of the world all together) and seems certain to maintain that standing, at least for now (see p 52 of the joint UN-Afghan government Afghanistan Opium Survey 2011). Additionally, 2.65 per cent of the Afghan population – one of the highest rates in the world – is currently addicted to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been spreading among the country’s intravenous drug abusers (see p 1 of Afghanistan Opium Survey 2011). Regionally and globally, Afghanistan is the source for illicit drug trafficking, drug abuse and drug-induced HIV/AIDS in the region, particularly Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia (especially Tajikistan), and the larger world as far as Western Europe and Northern America (see pp 14-16 of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report The Opium Economy in Afghanistan: An International Problem). ‘Either Afghanistan destroys opium or opium will destroy Afghanistan,’ said the Afghan president Hamed Karzai in 2006.


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