Friday, October 5, 2012

Afghanistan's Newest Role Models

If the only thing you know about Afghanistan is what you see on the news, I would bet that your view of the situation here is pretty pessimistic. So let me share something that gives me hope about Afghanistan's future. One of the biggest grants I manage is the Afghan Premier League, the country's first national sports league. The league consists of 8 teams representing 8 regions of the country; Men from different tribes and ethnic groups playing together as teammates.

The teams shake hands before and after the match.
Our grantee, the organizers of the league, has done an amazing job. They have raised the bar on professionalism in sports, demonstrated that corruption and favoritism have no place in the league, and given all Afghans a reason to cheer. Most importantly, and most remarkably, they have created role models for the country.

In addition to athletic conditioning and team practices, team members received instruction on how to behave on and off the field as brothers. They visit schools and youth clubs to spread messages of good sportsmanship and national unity. There are no fights on the field, no cursing at the referees, no scandals. And this example has set the tone for the fans.

The fans enjoying a pleasant afternoon in Kabul.
One concern I had at the beginning was that this experiment in sports diplomacy could backfire if the players or fans adopted a hooligan style of soccer. But although some of the players will mimic the over-acting of some soccer stars when they come into contact with an opposing player, they've managed to remain civil and respectful.

The league has taken the country by storm. I was lucky enough to attend a match one afternoon - in the VVIP box! (Even though the Department doesn't think I'm worthy, it's nice to know someone does. I have the ticket stub to prove it!) I'm thrilled to be a part of this project. In no way can I take credit for its success, but I can do everything I can to make sure the embassy continues to support it.


Becky said...

Very cool! Thanks for sharing this. I love hearing good news.

Anonymous said...

Hi Heather, We enjoyed this....we see an empty seat in the stands and wish we could come cheer you and the teams on! In the meantime, we will be your cheering section from here! On our return flight from our Midwest 4 Presidential Library tour we met a young man in fatigue uniform headed to your part of the world! He was brilliant as he spoke of the "good things going on there"! We proudly mentioned you! Sending you team spirit cheers! Harvey & Beth XxOo

Mom said...

Thanks for posting and for the phone call this morning. I was happy you explained VVIP during the call, as now I know it's "V V I P" as in very very instead of WIP which would have me mentally scrambling for a translation of the acronym all day instead of reading the greens.

Enjoy your week in Thailand. Stay safe.