Football beats Taliban: Afghan teenagers defy death threats from extremists for the love of game

first_imgThree teenage players of a local football club in Kabul were on their way from Bamyan when the Taliban captured them. They were slated to play in the Afghan Premier League. Three days later, the three returned, heavily bruised and barely able to stand.”They were captured by the Taliban for absolutely no reason. They were tortured and beaten continuously for three days before being released. Luckily, the terrorists didn’t kill them and they were able to participate in the tournament,” says Khalid Bilawar, manager of the team currently touring India, playing in the 58th Subroto Cup. For an outsider, it is almost impossible to imagine what the life of a sportsperson in war-torn Afghanistan could be like.Astaqlal, a high school based in main Kabul in Afghanistan, have sent their best 16 players for the Subroto Cup being played in Delhi. Such opportunities don’t come quick and thick in that part of the world. And the team has not disappointed so far.In the under-14 category, the Afghan boys have won both their matches – 3-1 against Maharani School, Assam, and a 4-0 thumping of Reliance Foundation, Mumbai.For these children of Kabul, playing football is a matter of life or death. “They are kids eager to put on their shoes and play all day, given the opportunity. Football in Kabul is as popular as in India. But, as you know, playing football has different consequences there. We have around 400 children training in this school under a constant threat to life. We never know when a bomb will strike us or when the terrorists barge in and start shooting. Fortunately, none of us has been killed so far. But the situation is worse than ever,” says Bilawar, an Afghan international footballer himself.advertisementHe says the constant war between the government and the Taliban has taken a toll on the parents who are reluctant to send their kids for practice, fearing for their life. “Yahan talent ki kami nahi hai (there is no shortage of talent),” he says. “Often we hear a bomb go off close to where these kids are practising. There have been cases of open firing at the mosque when hundreds were praying. All of this has terrified the parents. We try to convince them but it is really tough.”The fear is real. The kids don’t even want to talk about it. Eagerly taking in the view of the city from the team bus speeding down the Gurgaon-Delhi highway, the players seemed to enjoy every moment of the freedom. After much hesitation, one of them agreed to speak.Abdullah Ali is a 13-year-old midfielder from Kabul. He started playing at the age of 10 and soon became a mainstay in his team. “I followed my footballer father and got interested in the game. I believe if all this (terrorism) is taken away and we are allowed proper training, we could reach heights,” says Abdullah, who dreams of wearing the national jersey some day.”I don’t know why all this happens and I frankly don’t have the permission to talk about it. Being an athlete in Afghanistan, we can only talk about sports.” For these children, the struggle is not limited to the terror around them. Lack of encouragement, poor nutrition and minimal infrastructure limit their careers as well.”We held talks over promoting sports – not just football – but the government is least bothered. They are only worried about the war and how to deal with it and we are clearly not the priority,” says one of the coaches, requesting anonymity. “Another big worry is nutrition. These kids don’t have the money to buy proper food and follow a strict diet. We are lenient in training so that they are not injured but this has hampered their skills as well as strength. The only thing we can give to these kids is hope that they may one day play for a big club in Europe.”Playing the Subroto Cup is a step in that direction for these children. When the smoke and dust settle, they just want to make their nation and families proud.Also Read:Afghanistan: Suicide bomber kills two US soldiers in NATO convoy Taliban dismisses Trump’s policy change, says will turn Afghanistan into graveyard for American troopslast_img

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