Sport & Culture

‘Skateistan’ Comes to Afghanistan

“The whole idea was that we’re building something for the kids, in Afghanistan…”

‘Skateistan’ Comes to Afghanistan
Credit: Wikicommons

It still may be tough to see Afghanistan mentioned in the international media without the adjective ‘war-torn’ loitering nearby but in terms of sport, the scene is slowly improving.

Football is returning to the country. The stadiums are no longer the sites of killings or amputations but instead play host to 'the beautiful game.'

The cricket team is improving and just last month, the one-day team took on the mighty Australia for the first time in the country’s history.

And the London Olympics were a success for Afghanistan as Rohullah Nikpai won a bronze medal in Tae Kwon Do, the second ever medal in the country’s history.

There is something else too. In Kabul, there is a pastime growing in popularity that is usually regarded as confined to kids in the west.

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It’s skateboarding, and the fact that it has taken off can be placed solely on the shoulders of one man.

Oliver Percovich arrived in Afghanistan in 2007 and started skating and now a growing army of youngsters do the same.

His charity, called ‘Skateistan,’ is now the subject of a book and a short movie.

One blog asked if it is the coolest charity ever.

As the Australian got out his board, local kids were interested but there was nowhere for them to skate, so he built a skate park in 2009 with the help of equipment donations from American skateboarding companies.

Now, 400 youths, both male and female, attend classes.

 “I’m simply a conduit,” Mr Percovich said according to The Economist. “It’s top-down but also bottom-up. They asked me for boards, so we got them. They asked for classes, so we organized those.”

“The whole idea was that we're building something for the kids, in Afghanistan, and it doesn't matter if they're poor, or rich, or coming from different ethnicities," he was quoted as saying in Foreign Policy magazine and that when he gave them the boards, "I saw the gleam in their eyes and knew they were hooked."

Percovich has appeared in all manner of international news media since the project started – New York Times, Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC – you name it and they have come calling to find out what is coming next because what he is doing is unique and, most importantly, successful.

The book is a coffee-table affair and co-author Rhianon Bader described it to Dazed Digital:

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"Skateistan's been lucky to have super talented photographers volunteer their work for us over the years, and the result are these stunning images which totally contradict the typical portrayal of Afghanistan in major media. An Afghan girl skating through the streets of Kabul is interesting on so many levels, whether it's political or social. Afghanistan is a deeply traditional country with a history of conflict and oppression, and at the same time it can be a friendly place with beautiful landscapes. The book gives a no-BS look into the challenges of getting this project started and keeping it going in extremely difficult circumstances."