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Score the goal, inshallah!

by Aida Azarnoush


Aida Azarnoush

Aida Azarnoush

In the summer months, scorching heat paralyses Mazar-e Sharif, the biggest town of northern Afghanistan. Only if absolutely necessary, do people venture out to the dusty streets in the afternoon. But recently young Afghans have taken to running across a small, fenced-in square. They gesticulate wildly and sweat long before the pleasant cool of the evening refreshes the town.

They are not day labourers who must support their families with hard work. No, the kids that are running around like mad are members of the middle-class. Many go to expensive private schools, learn English or study IT technology at one of the countless private institutes. Maybe they or their parents or friends are employed by a foreign organisation for a hefty salary. In any case, they have managed to come up with 1000 afghani, around twenty dollars. That is the price they have to pay to for dedicating one hour to the world’s favourite pastime and rent a small football pitch in Mazar. 

Only a year ago, not even one of these soccer fields existed. The youngsters used to join for indoor computer games, but not for outdoor sports. Parents didn’t want their children to play on the streets.

But then the “Park of Turkish-Afghan Friendship” was inaugurated after years of construction. It is a gift of the Turkish state to the inhabitants of Mazar. Apart from family-oriented facilities, it includes a small, fenced-in football pitch, which turned out to be surprisingly popular. It is often booked out for weeks ahead.

The example caught on. Today, more than 20 of these football fields exist in Mazar: small and large, with hard floors or artificial turf. Where yawning boredom used to plague young football enthusiasts, they are now spoilt for choice. Even though 1000 afghanis is lot of money for many Mazaris, not only the kids of the rich rent the pitches. Youngsters with little money pool their change in order to rent a field. Sometimes a wealthy boy pays for his poorer friends.

Fawad, the father of a football-fanatic boy, considers this unexpected success story a model for good development cooperation: “Nobody expected this to happen when the park with the first football field opened. It has become a model. Business interest has led to new sources of income plus something good for the people in general. The best thing is that these pitches were not constructed by foreigners, they aren't charitable gifts which will collapse at some point.”


Aida Azarnoush is a journalist and works for a development organisation in Afghanistan.
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