Out here in the perimeters, there are no stars. Out here it's just sport. And in sport at its purest, there's no geo-political divide, no factionalism or a smacking of atavism that revolves around war and survival. Sport can rise above hatred.
“Sport is different. It is perhaps one medium through which the world can be united,” says Saleh Mohammad, a former World No 2 in snooker. He is part of a three-member Afghanistan snooker team on whom the expectations of a troubled nation rest at the Asian Games in Doha.
The other Afghan teams that have come to India for a short practice-cum-exposure trip are boxing, judo, karate and wrestling squads. They are here on the initiative of their government and the Olympic Council of Asia. The snooker team is the only one that is practising in Delhi at the Delhi Billiards and Snooker Association premises in Malviya Nagar. The others teams have proceeded to Patiala.
Despite making an obvious effort to remain calm, Saleh couldn't conceal his enthusiasm at representing his country at the Games for the first time in his 16-year career. Saleh, who had shifted to Pakistan 30 years ago has represented his adopted country since 1992. He even won a bronze for Pakistan at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1998.
Right now, though, he is focussed on winning a medal for his country. “I was planning to retire, but my friends and relatives in Kabul coaxed me into representing my country of origin in snooker, where we have a good chance of winning a medal,” says a confident Saleh.
Though the other members of his team lack international experience, he says: “They need to start somewhere. Though they haven't played any international events till date, I feel they will do well. The sport is becoming very popular in Afghanistan. And it's not confined to snooker alone. After a very long time, we'll be represented by more than 200 players in Doha,” says the three-time national champion of Pakistan.
Recollecting the horror days when bombs and gunfire sent tremors through Afghanistan, he says with a tinge of sadness: “Though we were in Peshawar, I have lost many friends out there. It is sad. But now the city is coming back to normalcy. We had four snooker parlours then but around 150 parlours have mushroomed around the city.” Hopefully, he believes, Afghanistan will rise as a sporting nation.