Montag, 16. September 2013

Football euphoria

A saying about the United Nations in crisis zones when confronted to major unrest goes like this: „Last in, first out“. Today saw a relatively late statement by the special representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, on the occasion of the victory of the Afghanistan National football team in the South Asian Footbal Federation Championship. The 2:0 from last week against India was „the country’s first international football victory“, the UN press release notes, going on to say that „the win has seen the Afghanistan National Football Team rise seven places in FIFA’s world rankings table to the 132nd spot – another cause for celebration... and more than just a sporting achievement. After decades of war, this triumph was rightly seen as another powerful symbol of Afghanistan’s return to normal times.“ This apparent euphoria needs to be seen in its right proportions. Afghan footballers have made it to the headlines of the international media the second time in a few week. The win of the South Asian Championship hides a number of aspects. On the one hand, it points to what is seemingly a tangible progress amidst war and conflict, that is - the ability to play international matches considered FIFA-standard in the current Kabul context - the ability to provide security for thousands of spectators (including myself) who witnessed the historical friendly match against Pakistan (3:0 for Afghanistan) earlier last month. The main security challenge in this match for spectators – Afghan nationals as well as for the few internationals, mainly representing western media) – was the reaction of the Afghan security force against the number of young Afghans heavily pushing at the gates of the stadium, trying to get in while not in posession of tickets. Some of the security forces would point easily their guns at the spectators trying to force the thin metallic and wooden doors to the southern stadium entrance. Also, while trying to report about the scene – part of the security personel seemed not at all aware of the rights of journalist to provide photos and reporting for their respective media. For most of my Afghan collegues, being treated with verbal and/or physical violence, with hits on the camera equipment etc. is a usual phenomenon. On the other hand, the few Afghan female reporters on in the stadium were in contrast treated with dignity as far as I could observe, not did they seem to complain. Here like in other circumstances in Kabul public life – it was difficult to separate regular from unregular security forces. Where as the police typically wears two or three different types of publically known uniforms, other security personnel was from the NDS, responding to the special potential threat a match against Pakistan might involve. Finally, some of the gate keepers hat no proper uniforms at all, no suits by the Football federation but where armed with weapons and seemed the most active to try and push the youngsters without tickets out. A few days after the match against Pakistan and before the the victory in the South Asian Championshi, I could interview some of the leading responsibles of the Afghan Football Federation (see here). Besides a logical aspiration for pride and national unity, both officials point at substantial challenges ahead in their sport, that is - the survival of the Afghan Football League going into its second season would also depend on overall security in the country as well as on the longtime committment of some of its major funders, (Roshan Telecommunications, Tolo TV). Lasting financial dependency is visible from the fact that the FIFA is a main contributor to the new stadium on the AFF. Also a number of top officials working for the AFF are still being paid by the German Football Federation or by the German GIZ, while at the same time the Federation could not profit from the income of the ticket sales ranging at around 20.000 USD for the Pakistan-match. Besides security, lacking infrastructure remains a main challenge for the league before it will be possible to play of the national championship in the classical 'home and away'-mode, with travel around the country and stadiums in other cities. With the current level of TV live broadcasting for Afghan TV viewers, the investment into technical equipment would also be considerable. 26 indian TV-experts actually helped Tolo & Roshan secure a high quality TV broadcast also for the match against Pakistan. But a copy of this is not to happen in other cities of the country anytime soon, I am told. Interestingly, hardly any international media made mention of the fact that football was not the total taboo under the Taliban as Western media like to put it. As correspondents who witnessed the Taliban period have pointed out in different articles from before oct. 6Th 2001, the day of the US intervention to Afghanistan, the Taliban regime apparently adopted a much more pragmatical stance to football. On a cultural and media-political level, it desreves explanation why most of the articles fell short of this historical note.