Sport & Culture

Afghan Premier League Tournament a Success

As football returns to Afghanistan, the sport is helping heal old wounds and giving the youth new idols to look up to.

The first ever Afghan Premier League was a success for soccer fans in the country and there will hopefully be many more to come.

The eight-team tournament finished in October with Toofan Harrord winning the cup after two months of football.

Each team represents a different region of the country and with sponsors on board and a slick official website –where you can watch highlights and sometimes even the full games – the signs are promising.

Toofan hail from Herat and defeated Simorgh Alborz from Mazar-i-Sharaf in the final played in front of 4,000 fans in Kabul.

The teams found their players after a reality-TV search broadcasted by national network Tolo. Viewers as well as a jury chose which players made each team. Thousands of young players vied for a spot, showing their skills in regional matches in hopes of making it all the way to the final.

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All the games are shown on national television too.

There is a hope that the league will help raise standards in the country. Under the Taliban, stadiums were used for executions rather than football and the absence of a professional league left the game in a sorry state. Slowly things are improving.

Afghanistan participated in the qualification round of the 2014 World Cup –when they were eliminated by Palestine- and while there are leagues such as the Kabul Premier League, this is the only nationwide professional league. Players get paid around U.S.$9.50 a day, although this is often supplemented by wealthy donors’ gifts.

Of course, it’s not only about the football.

"They (players) are idols for a lot of kids and a lot of players in the provinces. If they compete in the right way, that will have a huge positive impact on nation building,” said APL commissioner Shafic Gawhari,

"Most of the Afghan population are young people. They're under 25. We would like to bring our message to the majority of Afghans, and to the world, that Afghans can play together, and that we have teams composed of different tribes, of different ethnicities.

"If you look at the Kandahar team, they are not only composed of Pashtuns. They are Hazaras and other ethnicities too," he added.

All the games took place in the capital where the eight teams were encamped for the six-week tournament. This meant that the fans of teams from elsewhere had to travel to Kabul to watch the games and some did.

Supporters left provinces such as Kandahar and Helmand to watch football, making the lengthy and sometimes dangerous journeys.

"Yes we have troubles in Kandahar and explosions, but we also have many heroes in Kandahar. These sporting heroes help us forget," said Assad, a University student who had made the trip to Kabul, told the UK’s Telegraph.

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"We didn't know we had such good players before this. It will be very beneficial for the national team.”