Rich in talent, Afghan cagers strive on despite odds
The Taliban crushed their bones but couldn’t kill the spirit. Countering numerous hazards and bans, the fearless Afghans stayed focussed to resurface in the 2006 Asian Games. What a gift it was for the war-ravaged nation when the young Afghan cagers defeated Hong Kong at Doha.
Determined officials of the country have travelled to New Delhi to meet top officials of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) with the hope of helping budding hoopsters in Kabul.
Despite the ravages of war and the rise and fall of regimes, Afghan cagers persevered despite the country not possessing even one indoor court. “Twenty years back things were not like this. There were good courts and a thriving league. But after the war and during the Taliban regime, everything came to a standstill,” said Abdul Saboor Azizi, technical deputy of the Afghanistan National Amateur Basketball Federation.
“We are now trying to revive the sport. The biggest moment for us was at Doha where we won against Hong Kong in the preliminary round,” he said.
Azizi and Ghulam Ghous Nikbeen, general secretary of the Afghanistan Basketball Federation, were in the Capital to meet FIBA officials, who are here to promote basketball in collaboration with the NBA through their ‘basketball without borders’ programme.
“We have about 40 clubs in Kabul, Kandahar, Mazaar-e-Sharif and Herat. Not only boys, even girls are keenly following the game. Since the Karzai government doesn't support us, we have to seek the FIBA’s help and requested them to have a similar programme in Afghanistan,” said Nikbeen, a former national player.
“Most of the players in our national team are refugees. They live in USA and train there though some players like Obaidullah, Hekmatullah and Mustafah live and train in Kabul,” he added. But the strife-torn country has a long way to go. “We are beggars driven by our passion for the sport. Hopefully, the FIBA will recognize our efforts and help us in our endeavour,” said Azizi.
Plans for pro league
FIBA is all set to popularise basketball in India. President of the world body, Bob Elphinstone, hinted on a professional basketball league in the country, similar to the Indian Premier League. “One of the things we said to the Indian federation and government is that the players need to compete regularly, every week, the best players against each other. That will give an opportunity to bring in foreign players into the national league,” said Elphinstone.
“We are seriously trying to introduce a professional basketball tournament with top six Indian teams, probably in coming October or November. Right now, we are looking at the sponsorship issues,” said R.S. Gill, Basketball Federation of India president.