Posts tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Winning Needs Some Perspective

For the past fortnight in India every newspaper is full of speculation on the Cricket World Cup, and whether the current World Champions can retain their trophy. Turn on the television and there are replays of previous tournaments, interviews with former World Champions, it has been wall to wall cricket as the country works itself up into a frenzy.

There are however some who feel that Australia may well have exposed fans to simply too much cricket prior to the World Cup, with the Test Series with India, The Big Bash League and then the Tri-nation series. Some believe that despite losing to Australia, India should have taken a break from playing ‘down under,’ and the players should have returned home for a couple of weeks break with their families before looking to defend their title.

This brings into question what is the perfect preparation for a tournament such as this. It has now become the norm that all the competing nations have warm up games against each other, games attended usually in the main by those unable to get tickets to the actual world cup games. Games in which neither side wants to reveal too much, saving their best for the tournament itself.

If India is under pressure how must South Africa feel having been warned by their Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula that they better not fail, and forbidding them to ‘become a bunch of losers.’ This comment was made during their official send off.

“we don’t want you in the World Cup to add numbers and just become a bunch of losers.” he was quoted as saying. He went on to say “You are not going to be playing with robots. You are playing with people. You are the special ones. You are the chosen ones. It does not mean you are irreplaceable but all of you are capable of doing the duty for us.”

Not happy with these inspiring words he continued by reminding the team of previous losses at previous World Cups. Proving that he is no Nelson Mandela when it comes to stirring inspirational oratory.

Having already labelled the national football team a bunch of losers a year ago, no doubt his words were water off a duck’s back to the players, but they can hardly have helped their preparation.

One team not expected to win a game is Afghanistan, competing in their first World Cup. Cricket has miraculously skyrocketed in popularity since the Taliban permitted the game to be played in 2000. A year later the ICC welcomed them to international cricket as an affiliate member.

Their preparation has faced a different set of problems as coach Andy Moles, who played for Warwickshire explained. ” I spoke to one of the players who was late to our late camp. I asked him the reason why he and he turned around and told me that he had to go to the funeral of his cousin who was shot dead by a drone.”

It would appear that many teams this time around are having their own set of problems when it comes to preparation for the World Cup, but for the sake of the players and everyone back in war-torn Afghanistan it would be great if sport can show just who wonderful it can be, and they could record a famous and unlikely victory to help the game grow and lift the spirits of the people back home. If they can that will be the equivalent of them winning the cup itself, and will hopefully give the tournament and certain politicians some perspective.


February 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

The Politics of Sport or is it the Sport of Politics?

There are many who will say that there is no place in sport for politics. Yet ironically sport has been used frequently by politicians to gain favour. It was a sporting boycott that resulted in South Africa slowly dismantling the apartheid system. Then Nelson Mandela used it to unite a country that had been torn apart by Apartheid. John Howard was a frequent visitor at the Sydney Olympics to try and improve his public persona. He is not alone as both US and Russian presidents love to be seen involving themselves in sporting activities.

The funny thing is nowadays very rarely do countries boycott sporting events as 62 nations did with the 1980 Olympics Games after Russia invaded Afghanistan. In 1984 Russia returned the favour by having 14 countries boycott the Los Angeles Games.

There were calls for a boycott of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa because the then President Thabo Mbeki refused to denounce the intimidation and violence being used by neighbouring country Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe. There were calls to boycott the Beijing Olympic Games due to China’s Human Rights violations and their policy on Tibet. No boycott happened. There are now calls that Russia be stripped of the 2018 FIFA World Cup after the shooting down of the commercial aircraft Malaysia Airlines MH17, and the appalling handling of the incident on the ground. The chances are no boycott will happen as sport is big business today.

Over the years there have been many athletes make political statements. One of the most famous was the gloved salute made by sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Olympics at the medal ceremony for the 200m. It is often reported as a “black Power salute” but Smith maintains it was a human rights salute.

The two US athletes received their medals wearing no shoes and black socks as a symbol of black poverty. Carlos had his tracksuit unzipped to support blue-collar workers, and wore a necklace of beads which he claimed was “for those individuals who were lynched or killed and no one said a prayer for, that they were hung or tarred.” All three athletes including Australian Peter Norman wore “Olympic Project For Human Rights” badges, Norman claiming it was a stance against Australia’s  all white policy at the time. Carlos and Smith were sent home in disgrace, Norman was never picked to run for Australia again.

At the 2003 Cricket World Cup Zimbabweans Henry Olonga and and Andy Flower announced that they would wear black armbands for the “death of democracy” in their homeland. Olonga was dropped after one game – allegedly due to form – Flower continued to play. Olonga had an arrest warrant put out for him and was charged with treason, a charge that carries the death penalty. Their actions were supported by the world’s media.

Many sportspeople have made other political statements, many have used the Nazi/facist one arm salute, – a gesture given by the whole England football team in 1938 – in modern times most have immediately received suspensions.

England cricketer Moeen Ali has now created a storm by wearing wristbands  that carried the wording “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine.” Many expected him to be banned for making such a statement in a sporting environment, such as during a test match. However the 27 year old muslim all rounder has simply been told by the International Cricket Board not to wear them again. The word is that the England Cricket Board were prepared to let Ali continue to wear them during the third test in Southampton. However they have had to bow to the ICC who deemed its international sports arena was not the place for the British Muslim to show his solidarity.

So the question is why is it OK for politicians to use sport to gain favour and popularity, or make a global statement, yet the athletes ability to air their own views are not quite so clear. Is it OK for an athlete to use his position in the public eye to make a political statement, to raise awareness on an issue they feel strongly about? Is there a time when this is OK, or is it never OK?

Whenever we turn on football today we will witness players from a Catholic background cross themselves before entering the field of play. It has become accepted. What would people’s reaction be if a muslim player knelt down, bowed and kissed the turf before entering the field of play? Would that be deemed an action likely to incite violence, or is it in fact now a political gesture, thanks to the Americans deciding that in place of Communists the enemy they must defend their citizens from are now muslims?

To be honest it is all a storm in a tea cup. One of Australia’s iconic athletes Cathy Freeman proudly displayed the Aboriginal flag as well as the Australian flag when she was victorious despite being told not to do so. The Aboriginal flag not being deemed a national flag by Athletics governing bodies. Most in Australia understood why she did so and few were offended.

Was this a political statement, or was it just Freeman celebrating her success with the Aboriginal people?

After the Sydney Olympics, Cathy Freeman was used as proof that sport could be used as a means of political expression for oppressed peoples.

Yet according to Colin Tatz, professor at the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of New South Wales, Australia. “No one should think that her performance will lead to 150,000 little aboriginal girls getting up and taking up sport. The area where Cathy Freeman comes from still has no electricity, no sewage system, and suffers from huge health problems. The average lifespan for women is 55 years, for men it is 50. Cathy Freeman did not make a difference.”

People remember the statements made by athletes but do their actions make a difference? In Olonga and Flower’s case despite their gesture Zimbabwe still does not have a democracy. So why all the fuss by those in power?

July 30, 2014 at 9:02 am 1 comment

From Refugees to the MCG

Prior to his team’s back to back games against Kenya in Sharjah Afghanistan cricket coach Kabir Khan backed his team to seal direct qualification for the 2015 World cup. If Afghanistan lost either of these two matches the UAE would qualify in their place and they would have to head to New Zealand for a second round of qualifiers.

When Khan took over Afghanistan had won just two of their opening eight matches. They needed to win all of their remaining matches to qualify for the World Cup.

Last week they achieved that goal and it really is a rags to riches story.

It is believed that the first Afghans learned the game in Pakistani refugee camps, having fled the Soviet invasion in 1979. Sport was completely banned under the strict Islamic fundamentalist rule of the Taliban, between 1996 and 2001.  Pitches and arenas were more likely to host an execution than a training session or a match for any sporting team. However as the Taliban lost its grip, sporting teams and events began to grow

Twelve years ago, the Afghanistan cricket team didn’t officially exist. A few Afghan expats started a team in Pakistan and applied for accreditation to the ICC (International Cricket Council). Only in 2001 did Afghanistan became an ICC associate member; an associate membership meaning that it was recognized as an established sport in the country, nothing more. Seven years later in 2008, the team played its first matches in division five of the ICC’s global league. They played Japan.

They won the league and that gave them a chance of qualifying for the 2011 World Cup. Which they were unable to do. However the team did well enough in the qualifiers to be granted the status of an international one-day team.

They went on to qualify for the world Twenty20 tournament, in 2010 and again in 2012.

Now though, Afghanistan with its triumph over Kenya by seven wickets at the recent World Cricket League Championship in Sharjah, has to won the right to play at the 2015 World Cup. They will be part of a group that includes co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, as well as Bangladesh, England and Sri Lanka. It will not be easy but for a team that has come so far in so short a time, they have proved that they are up for any challenge.


October 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm Leave a comment

Rivalry Builds Friendship

We have on the show, and on this site previously highlighted how sport has the ability to breakdown political boundaries and unite people from different cultures or religions, another such example occurred this week.

Political relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are to put it mildly, strained. Each nation blaming the other for the bloody violence that is plaguing both countries and resulting in pointless deaths.

Yet on tuesday the two national teams played an international game of football on a FIFA funded artificial pitch in Afghanistan. This was the first home international in Afghanistan since 2003 when they played Turkmenistan.

It was also the first time that these two neighbouring countries had played each other since 1977. This was prior to the old Soviet Union invading Afghanistan and Taliban rule. Football was not banned under the Taliban, but the Ghazi Stadium which was used for international games became notorious for executions, mutilations and stonings.

This game was played at the AFF Stadium and was witnessed by 6000 fans who left the stadium deliriously happy as Afghanistan, ranked one place above Pakistan in the FIFA World rankings at 139th, were the victors 3-0.

A re-match is scheduled for December in the Pakistani city of Kabul. Even thought this game was used to promote friendship victory over their arch rivals was sweet for the Afghanistan fans and proved the prefect way to launch the second season of the eight-team Afghan Premier League.

August 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm 1 comment

I’m Half English with a Bit of Australian…

The T20 Qualifiers for the World Cup to be played later this year in Sri Lanka have been completed with Afghanistan qualifying, and boosting their hopes of becoming a test-playing nation.

The nations that will be in the Sri Lanka as well as the test playing countries will be Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands and Scotland.

However questions need to be asked of the ICC how players who have already played for one country at International level can be allowed to suddenly represent another, without meeting some qualifying criteria.

Australian Michael Di Venuto played for Italy despite having played one-day internationals for Australia. He qualified due to his Italian origins, and his Italian passport has allowed him to play in England without being an overseas player. His brother Peter has also represented Italy.

Former England Wicket-keeper Geraint Jones represented Papua New Guinea, the place of his birth despite playing 34 tests and 49 ODI’s for England. Jones is in fact born in Papua New Guinea, of Welsh parents, and was raised in Australia, so his loyalties are very much divided.

Irishman Ed Joyce, who also happened to play for England returned to play for the country he originally played for before being capped by England. His case seems to have a little more merit than others.

This is however a worrying trend, and the ICC surely must put in place hard and firm qualification rules to stop players switching allegiances just because it suits them or is financially attractive.

April 2, 2012 at 11:05 am Leave a comment

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