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Military

04 March 2003

Kabul Stadium, Once Infamous for Executions, Again Hosts Football Matches

(Afghan national team prepares for regional competition March 29)
(750)
By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer
Kabul -- Ghazi Stadium is once again hosting football matches. This
seemingly unremarkable news signals a welcome return to normal life in
Kabul. The stadium, one of the few public buildings that remained
relatively unscathed from the disastrous Afghan civil war of the early
1990's, became notorious during the Taliban era as the scene of public
executions, beatings and floggings.
Habib Ullahniazi, a professional football coach at the stadium for the
past 18 years, remembers those days very well, and said that as many
as 30 people were shot during the intermissions of football games.
"They would announce [the executions] the night before on Kabul Radio,
and those who were interested would come," he said.
During those days, Ullahniazi remembered, there was little public
entertainment available other than sports. "The Taliban were using a
two-sided sword," he said. "[T]hey would choose the day, stop the
football match in the middle when people were sitting, then go for the
execution."
"The public would watch them, and they would shoot them there," he
said, pointing to the middle of the field.
But the coach also remembers better times, when the stadium held some
famous regional football tournaments in which teams from Pakistan,
India, Iran, Turkey, Hungary, the former Soviet Union and others
competed with a very impressive Afghan national team.
"Yes, it was famous," he said proudly.
He described the civil war and Taliban periods as being disastrous for
Afghan football, which he said was one of "two things unmatched for
people's entertainment," the other being the national sport of
buzkashi, a game similar to polo, played on horseback.
Many of Afghanistan's stellar players left the country, to the dismay
of Ullahniazi.
"It was very difficult. When we would train [players] and they would
be ripe for football, they would go and become refugees. More than
fifty of my football students are now in the West - in Germany, the
United States. They are playing somewhere else," he said.
The overthrow of the Taliban and its replacement by the Afghan Interim
Authority (AIA) in late 2001 has rekindled his hopes for Afghan
sports.
"We have four football teams after the new regime. The new government
has come, and the Afghan Olympic Committee has started to operate,"
said Ullahniazi.
The national selection will represent the country in the South Asian
Federation Games on March 29 in Islamabad, Pakistan. Made up of
players between 18 and 23 years old from all of the country's
provinces, the team is a unifying national symbol.
Goalkeeper Sadiq Azizi hails from Kabul Province. His talents have
made him not just a local football star, but a televised national
hero. Having just returned from playing football matches in Korea,
Azizi said he was excited at the prospect of competing against teams
in the region.
Afghanistan's traditional rivals, according to team trainer
Ullahniazi, are Iran and Pakistan.
To prepare for Islamabad, the team has held scrimmages with a local
Kabul team, and with a team made up of members of the multi-national
International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).
The team's matches are well attended, and the ticket price of 2
Afghanis is within the reach of most of the city residents.
But Ullahniazi expressed frustration that international aid donors do
not place the revitalization of Afghan sports high on their priority
list, since it must compete with vital humanitarian needs. He said his
football teams are badly in need of very basic items, such as shoes
and exercise equipment.
"Only China gave us some sports equipment. No other country gave what
I can call a significant contribution. Although sports is a very
important angle of the society, the international community is not
paying that much attention," he said.
Catching up competitively will not be easy, but goalkeeper Azizi has
high hopes. "We have perplexities," he commented. "Because of the past
23 years of combat in our country, we didn't get some good practice,
and [also] during the five years of the Taliban regime. We hope, God
willing, we will be successful [in Islamabad]," he said.
Ullahniazi said that when it comes to sports, Afghanistan has "very
good talents, " but "it is a broken country." "If someone could lift
us, then we could take care of ourselves and go to the level that we
were before," he said.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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