AROUND THE WORLD: TOUCH GROWTH IN AFGHANISTAN

first_imgIn recent weeks I’ve been writing stories on Touch around the world and how it’s developing. Recently I’ve written a story on Touch in Germany and also in Spain. Now I’m writing on Afghanistan. I think it’s good thing for us Aussie Touchies to know about the sport in other nations, rather than just our own. I’m hoping that it will give us more of an understanding about how lucky we are to have the resources, finances, skills and knowledge that we have in Australia. I’m also hoping that it will help build relationships between us and these developing Touch nations so that we can use our resources and knowledge in the sport and its management to help these nations develop further. Afghanistan is a country that has been in the news in recent years for political reasons, but as I have discovered, they are starting to build a Touch tradition. Chris Mastaglio has been at the forefront of Touch in Afghanistan during his two years living there and describes the Afghani’s as both competitive and hospitable, which he believes is the perfect mix for Touch and signals their huge potential in the sport. From Chris’s description, his players are certainly not short on courage…at their final training session before a game against local ex-patriots; one of the more established players had a collision that badly broke his nose. The first thing he said when he regained his composure was “Chris, I am going to be quite upset if I miss the game tomorrow.” At 1pm the next day, with black eyes and an extremely swollen nose, he was on the ground, warming up and ready to play. Where there is enthusiasm, there is potential. During the last year Chris has been working for the Ministry of Education, running a project to develop physical education. This means that he has built up a network of people involved in sports and physical education, which has given him a clear indication there was a desire to learn about new sports and games. He began by offering a `taster’ day last October, providing people with the opportunity to see if they were interested in the sport of Touch. Because of that one day and the interest and enthusiasm shown there, Touch has kicked off in Herat, in north west Afghanistan, where they have two teams playing. One team trains early in the morning and has around 13 players, while the other trains in the evening and has 17 players. The morning team was set up because of the interest in playing amongst those who are unable to leave their shops or jobs during the day and evening. Chris and his team have also been trying to start a Touch team in Kabul, which is the capital of Afghanistan and is in the north east of the country. However, constant snow for the past two months and a lack of Touch contacts in the city has made that virtually impossible. A fact Afghan life that limits the growth of Touch, is that while there is a great desire to play the sport, there is also the necessity of work. To put it simply, people cannot afford time away from work, two hours away to train means two hours away from their livelihood and making money to support their families. But despite this, they are certainly committed, training three times a week, each for around 90 minutes and sometime supplemented with a game on Friday afternoon. Unfortunately they are hampered by having no one with the knowledge and resources to be heavily involved as a coach, referee or manager. For example, Chris believes that in the military in Kabul there is one qualified referee, but with the gender issue (she is a woman) and also her military background in Afghanistan, it may be difficult to involve her at all. In terms of equipment, Afghanistan is also limited. They were given some equipment such as balls, by the Newcastle Falcons RFC, Gosforth RFC, the RFU and Grange Interiors from the North East of England, but had major problems getting them delivered. The equipment was eventually lost, stolen or given away, so they are starting the process again of trying to find people willing to support them with uniforms and equipment. One main problem facing Touch in Afghanistan is that even in the relatively well-off cities of Kabul and Herat, there is a real lack of appropriate playing space. Amongst the Afghan people they may be generally interested in learning about new games and sports but because there is very little knowledge of Touch, the focus remains on volleyball and soccer. Chris firmly believes that people should be provided with the opportunity to access information and experience different sports; so that they can then make a decision about what they want to participate in. It is this lack of opportunity and focus on volleyball and soccer that holds back the expansion of Touch. Another issue confronting Chris and his group is that people who have heard of the game (or when the see the shape of the ball) assume that it is a dangerous sport (especially as grass is hard to come by in Afghanistan). The support of the ex-patriot community for Touch in Afghanistan has been vital to their kick off. Chris organised a team of ex-patriots to play the evening team in Herat late in 2004. It is even clearer how great the support is when you realise there is only a small ex-patriot community in Herat, some of whom had never played before. And just for the sake of information, Chris is keen to share that the Afghan team won that game! While there are no Juniors involved with the sport to date, Chris is well aware of the potential the Afghan kids have within the sport. Unfortunately he is limited by a lack of people able to help with the organisation of the sport and cannot expand the sport any further on his own. He is also finding that their development is limited by being unable to play against other teams. He is planning to take the two teams from Heart to play against teams from Kabul and also ex-patriot teams later in the year. They have already been offered the national stadium in Kabul to host the tournament, which is a strong start! The ultimate aim of this is that a representative team would be picked to play in a tri-nations tournament with India and Pakistan. Once again however, Touch in Afghanistan is hampered by the lack of time to organise the tournaments and also the lack of funds to finance the endeavor. While it may seem there is a lot holding the development of Touch in Afghanistan back, I want to go back to something Chris said to me…Where there is enthusiasm, there is potential. Afghanistan seems to have grabbed hold of that. By Rachel Moyle, media@austouch.com.au Anyone interested in contacting those playing Touch in Afghanistan should contact Chris Mastaglio cmastaglio@runbox.com For another story on Touch in Afghanistan use the link below: http://www.touchrugby.com/?sec=hom⊂=&LinkCode=&NewsID=202last_img