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Post-Taliban, football following takes a hit

That Kabul's 25,000-seater Ghazi Stadium was the venue for brutal executions when the Taliban held sway in Afghanistan is well documented.

sports Updated: Dec 06, 2011 23:31 IST
Tomojit Basu

That Kabul's 25,000-seater Ghazi Stadium was the venue for brutal executions when the Taliban held sway in Afghanistan is well documented. However, that the fundamentalist political outfit impacted football in the nation is not so well known and since its fall in October 2001, the dynamics of the beautiful game has changed.

"When the Taliban was around, the days were harsh but all those troubles came to an end when one went to the Ghazi stadium," began Afghanistan national team goalkeeper Hamidullah Yousufzai. "Matches were sold out because there was no television, photography, cinemas to visit - nothing. It was depressing but at the stadium it was a celebration," the 30-year-old Kabul Bank player, here for the 2011 Saff Championship, told HT.

"But since the Taliban were cast out, the crowds have really dropped. Nowadays, there is much more to do in Kabul and elsewhere. The youngsters have taken to snooker and cards while the older folk tend to stay away because there's TV. That feeling of the community coming together is disappearing which is strange because the quality of football has improved immensely," Yousufzai said.

Afghanistan played no international matches between 1984 and 2001 due to the Soviet invasion and the Taliban rule. At present, the 178th-ranked nation has two leagues in place - the 12-team Kabul Premier League and the Afghan National League consisting of 32 teams divided over seven zones.

"The leagues are improving but the federation has little money. Clubs are usually tied to institutions who fund them but you can guess how profitable it is. We don't play as many competitive matches as we'd like to nor do we earn much which is why most senior team players are not full-time footballers," said the custodian who moonlights as a carpet trader.

"Lately, the under-20 side is doing well and one sees women playing which was unimaginable a few years ago. These are the positive changes but it is important to sustain them. It will get better but not without the Afghan peoples' support."