An Afghan soccer player kicks a ball during a friendly match in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 16, 2012. Amid a deadly war in an impoverished nation, the promise of a new professional football league is offering a glimmer of hope in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)
The first professional football league in Afghanistan history kicked-off on in Kabul this past week. The Afghan Premier League (APL) opened to a near-capacity crowd of 3,500, as Les Maiwand Atalan (Heroes of Maiwand), â€“ a mythical mountain in the unstable region of the Helmand province â€“ defeated the Shaneen Asmayee (The Asmayee Eagles) 3-1 in the kick-off match. Unlike the English Premier League, however, the APL season will not even last one month, as it will wrap up on October 19. But this amounts to baby steps for a soccer-loving nation that has been torn apart by foreign invaders and internal ethnic rivalries.
â€œIâ€™m very proud of what weâ€™ve achieved today. Iâ€™m proud that we managed to organize such an event and I would like to send more positive messages, not only about today,â€ APL commissioner Said Shafir Gawari told the press in the wake of a suicide attack that killed 12 people, including nine foreigners, in Kabul on Tuesday. â€œMost of the Afghan population are young people. Theyâ€™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,â€ continued Shafir Gawari.â€ The Pashtuns, many of whom joined the Taliban, have historically been opposition to the Tadjiks, Uzbeks and Hazares, the other dominant ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
Eight teams will meet during the group phase of the tournament. The top four teams will then progress to the semi-finals, eventually leading to a winner. There will be a total of 16 matches played, all televised across the country on two of the leading networks, one in the Dari language, and the other in Pashtun. An interesting twist has also been added, with a section of APL players being chosen from television reality shows that attracted the applications of thousands of young Afghans.