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Bats not boats for Afghanistan


Cricket ball knocking over stumpsIn July, former prime minister Kevin Rudd, speaking at the launch of the Cricket World Cup 2015 in Melbourne, said he hoped the Afghanistan cricket team would qualify for the tournament to be held in Australia and New Zealand. He had just returned from a visit to troops in Afghanistan and saw some Afghan children playing cricket. Cricket, he said, can have an uplifting effect.

'When I see the young kids of Afghanistan taking up a bat and ball in the middle of nowhere and the difficulties which that country we all know experiences, it actually causes your heart to beat a little faster and think actually there's some good stuff going on here.' 

As an Australian working in Afghanistan, I am seeing firsthand the value of the game in this country.

Afghanistan is one of the 'youngest' countries in the world according to the United Nations, with about 70 per cent of the population being under 30. After more than 30 years of war, this points to another sad reality: almost three quarters of the population have never known peace in their lives. 

The violence continues and Afghanistan rates very badly on every global social indicator. Little wonder that many young people hold little hope for the future and look beyond Afghanistan for more secure lives.

The growth of the game of cricket, from almost nothing 12 years ago to international successes today, is having extraordinary effects. It is giving the international community a different picture of Afghanistan, without bombs and violence, showing the skill, hopes and commitment of young people. More importantly, it is having a huge impact upon the population, giving them a cause for pride, joy and celebration. 

Cricket has become much more than just a game here, it is something that is uniting the country in a way that nothing else has for years. It is the largest peaceful movement and, by far, the biggest movement of young people. The game is tremendously popular everywhere, not only in the cities but even amongst Afghan kids, as Rudd saw, 'in the middle of nowhere'.

The largest gatherings of people in Afghanistan today are the crowds at cricket matches with 15 to 20 thousand people regularly gathering to cheer. A parliament member, watching a cheering 15,000 strong crowd at a match in Kabul recently, said 'Nothing has ever brought us together like this.'

The Rudd Government reportedly spent $240,000 on its two-week campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan, informing those countries of its hardline policy against asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Most educated Afghans believed the ads would have no effect given the desperate situations many face here. They were an embarrassment.

Cricket offers a different opportunity. $240,000 could build up to three cricket grounds in provinces in Afghanistan, to be used by tens of thousands of people — more than the total number of boat people who have arrived at Australia's shores in the past 15 years. The United States, a country of cricket illiteracy, spent more than $1 million constructing the Kabul Cricket Stadium — recognising the major impact cricket is having in the country. Australia, one of cricket's 'first nations', has done nothing.

It is tragic that, for ordinary Afghans, the vast majority of whom have never considered seeking asylum, Australia's most visible contribution to their country is the message to 'keep away'.

Anthony has lived and worked in Afghanistan for the past six years. He has been involved in teaching and training for a wide range of Afghan staff in development and government ministries in Kabul. Prior to working in Afghanistan he worked amongst Indigenous Australians for more than 20 years. Surname withheld

Cricket ball image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Anthony, Afghanistan, cricket, Kevin Rudd



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The town where I live on the south coast of NSW has a strong surfing culture. In the latest edition of Griffith Review 40, a young woman, Bronwyn, who grew up here, contributed an article entitled "Is it hard to surf with boobs?". Her essay was about professional surfing, where the women's competition is treated both covertly and overtly as inferior to the men's. I would hope that in Afghanistan the great game of cricket would be open to all, male and female. Australia should certainly make a financial contribution but only on this basis.

Pam | 10 September 2013  

A great article, showing how opportunities can be and need to be utilised to help development. Afghans were valuable helpers in the early development of Australia, by taking supplies to outback stations with camels. In my early days at Broken Hill, they were also a colourful feature at local picnics, offering camel rides. Whatever builds up links with others boosts understanding and cooperation for the benefit of all.

Robert Liddy | 10 September 2013  

Thank you Anthony from another very sad and embarrassed Australian. That so little could do so much.....Imagine what could be done with the funds involved in our "trafficking" people offshore, if they could be put to positive, compassionate use. The land of a fair go? Really? It's time all Australians faced up to the fact that it is a myth!

Helen | 10 September 2013  

Unfortunately Anthony's article is yet another indication of the narrowness of Australia's approach to foreign affairs. We have reduced foreign affairs to "stopping the boats" and reducing our meagre overseas aid. I don't hold out much hope for a positive change under a Coalition government. Just before digital electioneering closed, I listened to a long TV advert from the frontline of the Coalition, including the then Shadow Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. In about 10 minutes of electioneering, not one word was mentioned about foreign affairs - apparently of little significance. The only two areas impinging on our relationship with the world were yet again "stop the boats" and "changes" in our overseas aid budget. Good on the Americans for financing construction of the Kabul cricket stadium. Love 'em or hate 'em, at least their government recognises they live in the wider world.

Ian Fraser | 10 September 2013  

Wonderful idea Anthony! In 1971 in Afghanistan i saw many buzkashi games where a headless goat was used as a ball with all teams on magnificent horses. Crowds loved it, as they now love cricket. a slightly more ordered game!!

rosemary | 10 September 2013  

How sad the powerful truth of this article has made me feel. So much waste of human lives, missed opportunities for psychic bridge building, so much money misspent.

Patricia R | 10 September 2013  

I am going to print this and send it to Abbott and Co.

john frawley | 10 September 2013  

Great article Anthony. I've watched the rise of the Afghani team with interest through the documentary and book out a few years ago. Let's hope for success, both in terms of performance and development of the nation. Pam, great comment and I hope your dream becomes a reality.

Gareth | 10 September 2013  

Afghanistan 100% qualify for the icc cricket world cup 2015 inshallah afghanistan cricket future is very good.

Abdulbaseer sahar hemat | 10 September 2013  

afghanistan. we'll win. kenya

hameed | 10 September 2013  

We hope Australia to help with Afghan cricket Board and to fix cricket matches with Afghanistan cricket team in order to be experienced and it would be a good chance for Afghanistan to show their talent and to improve their skills.

Temurshah | 10 September 2013  

Certainly, as you have mentioned beside the Australia, one of cricket’s ‘first nations’, has done nothing India and England also has done nothing. As the ancient Afghan proverb (The fish is fresh every time out of the water). So it is time for Australia to assist our cricket by constructing stadiums, sending Trainers especially in batting and fielding, offering camps to train our trainers and players, to encourage this peace and unit game in Afghanistan. Also it will encourage India and England to assist our cricket and do something friendly.

Mohammad Yasin | 10 September 2013  

Let us adopt Afghans as fellow lovers of cricket and welcome them to our shores if they desire to come.

Patricia Kennedy | 10 September 2013  

DIAC used to claim that if refugees played cricket they were really from Pakistan.

Marilyn | 10 September 2013  

As the CEO of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, I was very pleased to read this article. Cricket certainly is having a huge impact in Afghanistan. It is ‘uplifting’ our people and is contributing to peace, unity and development in Afghanistan in a way that little else ever has. Many young Afghans might not be able to point to Australia on a map of the world, but they can name many of Australia’s cricketing heroes. The Afghanistan Cricket Board has been working to develop closer ties with major cricketing countries and we would welcome more support from Australia.

Dr Noor Mohammad Murad | 10 September 2013  

Afghanistan would be a stronger nation in near future Insha'allah

Rahmat | 10 September 2013  

Well said Anthony. I walked out of the polling booth on Saturday with a heavy heart knowing that Australians were rejecting a chance to help people less fortunate than themselves who were only asking to share in a few of the opportunities we have in this great country

Sheila van Gent | 13 September 2013  

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