In contrast to the country’s more prominent image as a war-torn nation, this month Afghanistan showed the world a more promising and vibrant face.
The capital Kabul recently played host to a mega sports events that attracted thousands of spectators, and enthralled many more on television screens across the country.
Shadi Khan Saif has more.
As the teams charge toward a goal, thousands of spectators are cheering wildly from the stands.
At this match in Kabul, the players are dressed in colorful uniforms as they fight it out over a skillful game of football.
On Thursday August 25, the Afghanistan Football Federation Stadium in Kabul witnessed the launch of another season of the Afghan Premier League.
In the league, 8 teams representing different zones of the country fight it out for the title.
After decades of wars and destruction, the relative peace in the country has helped restore some sports facilities and encouraged youth to polish and prove their mettle. And, for sports lovers a pleasant and healthy escape from the otherwise bitter and harsh realities of everyday life in Afghanistan.
The football craze is definitely on the rise in Afghanistan.
There is a huge fan following for iconic football stars such as Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and many more.
Their own league is just what these diehard football lovers wanted.
Among those who have flocked to this match to witness the action live is Murad Ali, who grew up playing football on the streets of Kabul.
“We play football near our home in a couple of open spaces in the sand, it is not very standardized but that is what we have! I want the government to pay attention to the sport and provide good grounds for the youth,” Ali said.
Spectators from all over the country have travelled to Kabul to watch the matches.
Fans like Mohammad Salim, who travelled hours from Paktia province.
“I am personally a cricket fan but we love sports so that is why came here to see football matches. It was a wonderful match and we hope that peace prevails in Afghanistan and players come from all the over the world to play here,” said Salim.
Alongside the old love for football, cricket is also gaining traction here, partly due to the success of the national team.
Afghanistan’s cricket team is now counted among the top 10 teams worldwide.
Weeks before the Afghan Football League kicked off, the much awaited ‘T 20 Shpageeza” Cricket League was also launched.
Reaching its 4th year in 2016, the latest edition of this cricket extravaganza even attracted 10 foreign players from Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
Afghanistan’s six leading cricket clubs, Band-I-Amir Dragons, Mis Ainak Knights, Amo Sharks, Spin Ghar Tigers, Kabul Eagles and Boost Defenders took part in the tournament.
The Afghan hospitality and love for sports overwhelmed Zimbabwean national cricket star Sikandar Raza who played in the “Spageeza”.
“Fans have been brilliant, fans have been extremely, extremely, extremely happy to see me, which I did not expect, and to receive all the love from them made me realize how much love they have for cricketers, not just for their own cricketers but for the game itself and other cricketers,” Raza said.
“And to have my first game in Kabul with 13 thousand people in the stadium and a couple of thousands more outside as well has been a great experience as well,” the star said.
Mohammad Ibrahim Momand, the country’s leading sports commentator was rocking the radio waves throughout the Shpageeza’s nail-biting sports encounter.
Momand believes that young Afghans are committed to positive change in the country.
“The youth has now realized they can bring happiness to the faces of their countrymen, hoist the national flag in the ground across the world and lift the image of the war-torn country. The cricketers and footballers have been particularly good so far in achieving these goals,” Momand said.
In Momand’s mind, there is no better way to give these youngsters hope than through some great games of sport.