Football in Afghanistan
January 19, 2013 4:38 AM   Subscribe

"We're just trying to lead normal lives, doing what we want to do. Why shouldn't we?" The members [of Afghanistan women's national team], who range in age from 16 to 24, are up against widespread resentment from their relatives* and neighbors, and threats from men who disapprove of women playing sports. They managed to participate in an inclusive tournament in Berlin and they registered their first official win as they defeated Pakistan national women's team 4-0 and reached the semi-finals of the 2nd SAFF women's championship in 2012 improving on their past performance (rough 2010 SAFF footage). They're able to practice just three times a week for 90 minutes, occasionally at the stadium (2) or in its gym, but more often at a helicopter landing pad on a base for NATO troops, where practices are interrupted by takeoffs and landings. Players have some outside support from hummel, the sponsor of the women's and the men's team, and have had football clinics in Stuttgart and with Olympic U.S. player Lorrie Fair in Kabul.

Even in wartime, the Afghans have always been enthusiastic football fans. (trigger warning: violence) They played football in the 1980s, when the Russians were there, they played football in the 1990s, when the country was embroiled in a civil war in which Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbek were massacring each other, and they played football under the Taliban, albeit with long beards, long trousers and long sleeves.

It may be a long way from the standards of European football leagues, but the newly created Roshan Afghan Premier League has generated huge excitement and turned people across the country into football fans overnight. It all started with a single reality TV programme on Afghanistan's main private channel, Tolo: the Maidan-e-Sabz (Green Field) programme offered aspiring footballers the chance to compete for a place in eight newly-formed football teams across Afghanistan.

Ali Askar Lali is a former Afghan international who in 1981 arrived as a refugee in Germany. There he went on to play for and coach a number of teams before heading home to help bring about the re-birth of football and the founding of the APL. Watch full games of the APL here.

The Afghan Football Federation was set up in 1933 and it joined Fifa in 1948; the national team played its first-ever match against European opposition at the London Olympic Games in 1948, losing 6-0 to Luxembourg.

But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the ensuing civil war put an end to international football for more than two decades.

None of the players have contracts - they are only paid basic expenses. Teams get their board and lodging paid and players from outside Kabul also get a tiny daily allowance.

The men's national team recently reached the final of the SAFF tournament (tourney videos). Perhaps Afghanistan's revelatory football performance has its genesis in these kinds of life-experiences. In terms of tactics and skills, Afghanistan was second to none — but in tenacity, it was miles ahead. Full fixtures since the inception of Afghanistan men's team.

* * *
There is some footage, with problematic CNN presentation, of the women's national team against ISAF. Playing in front of a crowd is a rarity for the team, but they won. More recent photos of the team.

*CNN reports a failed suicide attempt, but I couldn't find mention of it somewhere else.

This was 2012: Afghanistan Football in Review. Outro.
posted by ersatz (8 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting. This is some great stuff.
posted by josher71 at 5:12 AM on January 19, 2013

There's not that much about Afghan football online. If you need a starting point, I consider the first three links and the first below the fold the most interesting of the lot and the 'women's' link above the fold is also pretty heartwarming.
posted by ersatz at 5:35 AM on January 19, 2013

Wow. Just wow.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:12 AM on January 19, 2013

threats from men who disapprove of women playing sports.
What they angry about is women having any presence in public life at all, existing as individuals with opinions and desires. Sports are incidental.
posted by 1adam12 at 10:21 AM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

That was an excellent video. I dare you not to tear up at the end.
posted by Brocktoon at 11:33 AM on January 19, 2013

Here's a similar piece about women's table tennis in Afghanistan. The main focus of the video at least has the support of her family. Also similar are the conditions of the training facilities. It looks like the football team at least doesn't seem to have to wear head scarves. I was watching at the Olympics and there were some women there that were not as appropriately dressed for the sport as their opponents.
posted by MtDewd at 2:04 PM on January 19, 2013

In one of the videos, a player remarks how limiting it is having to wear a head scarf while running and playing with her head, and worrying about the scarf slipping instead of concentrating on the game. Keep in mind that most of these are videos for a foreign audience; it is barely considered seemly for a woman to play football anyway (e.g. see the expression of the visiting officers in the 'tournament in Berlin' link) and as far as I can see, the only games they have played with an audience in their country were against ISAF in contrast to the -male- Afghan Premier League that is broadcast throughout the country. It's a shame that both in your ping pong video and in the footy videos the women say that if not for sport, they'd be sitting idle at home all day and that so much depends on the open-mindedness of their families. This might be my favourite post because it made me think about a couple of things.
posted by ersatz at 3:23 PM on January 19, 2013

They play Cricket too, and aren't too bad at it and will get better.
posted by vidur at 2:33 PM on January 20, 2013

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