Afghan Sport Needs Investment

Growing public enthusiasm not backed up by funding, especially anywhere outside Kabul.

Afghan Sport Needs Investment

Growing public enthusiasm not backed up by funding, especially anywhere outside Kabul.

The developing Afghan sports sector is a source of national pride that helps build a sense of unity, but it remains desperately underresourced, with playing fields few and far between.

Speakers at discussion events which IWPR hosted in Herat, Ghor and Kabul provinces spoke about the huge advances made in sports since the fall of the Taleban administration in 2001.

Women and young people are getting involved, and Afghan national teams has participated in international events. Football, cricket and athletics are particularly popular. This year, Afghanistan held its first marathon.

Rahmatullah Usmani, representing the government department of physical education in Kabul province, said progress had been rapid.

“There are over 10,000 sports clubs all around Afghanistan, and these numbers are growing,” he said.

In the western province of Herat, director of sport Qadir Joya boasted that residents now had access to 43 different athletics facilities.

“There were only six sports fields in Herat 14 years ago,” he said, adding that women in particular had benefited from the investment. “Fourteen years ago, women did not take part in any kind of formal sporting activity anywhere in the country, but now…they have risen to a variety of positions at local, national and international level.”

However, Farida Naser, representing the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said the lack of facilities was still excluding women from sporting activities. Conservative traditions in Afghanistan mean that women need dedicated facilities and privacy for practice.

Other debate participants said that more investment in sports generally was needed around the country, and claimed that corruption and personal connections played a large part in the national sports scene.

“Politics must be separated from sport, and officials and athletes must be selected on the basis of professionalism, not relationships,” Sayed Azim Keberzani, head of culture at Herat provincial council, said.

Mohammad Nasim Saha, deputy head of the athletics association in Herat province, said a further challenge was that so many resources were focused on the capital Kabul.

“Sports officials in the centre pay less attention to athletes in the provinces,” he said.

Saha cited the example of a recent trip to Russia  by 30 athletes from various disciplines . “These individuals all came from Kabul, and no one from the provinces was even considered,” he said.

Feroz Mashuf, a sports reporter in Herat, agreed that officials had not done enough to build a sporting culture, and the situation was particularly bad outside Kabul.

“Herat has always been sidelined by sports officials in the capital,” he said. “These issues have made athletes gradually lose their motivation.”

In the central province of Ghor, civil society activist Mohammad Wazir Nurani agreed that the government needed to invest more in regional activities.

“The Afghan government has forgotten about Ghor province in recent years, and sport is no exception. The Afghan Olympic Committee has done nothing to address this and our people have been left stranded. It’s a form of disloyalty towards us,” he concluded.

Mohammad Amir, head of sports in Ghor, said he had tried hard to get more facilities for the province, but said he could do little without the support of the national Olympic committee, and this had not been forthcoming.

Abdul Qayum Sarhadi, head of Ghor’s martial arts federation, said it was local rather than national authorities which had failed to deliver on promises.  

He said the Afghan Olympic Committee and a number of international donors had provided funds for a sports ground in Ghor. Nothing had been built.

“About 1.2 million dollars were allocated to build a stadium with a capacity of 2,000,” he said. “I don’t know who took the money or where it is, because no gymnasium has been built and there’s no sign of the money. The government needs to follow through with its plans, programmes and decisions, but this hasn’t happened.”

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of IWPR’s Afghan Youth and Elections programme.


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