‘I am a national trainer for 39 million Afghans, not from the Taliban’

'I am a national trainer for 39 million Afghans, not from the Taliban'

Conditions are almost perfect at Gloria Sports Arena in the Turkish resort of Antalya. Under the scorching evening sun and on a beautiful soccer field, the Afghan men’s soccer team of 31-year-old Dutch coach Anush Dastgir begins their training camp. This is the first time they have met since the Taliban took power in Kabul in August. Players can’t wait to play soccer together again, but first they have to run a few laps to warm up.

After the rounds on the dirt track, the players’ patience is tested. The president of the Afghan Football Association, Muhammad Yusuf Karkar, wants to address the selection. Comes to deliver a message from the new rulers. “The Taliban support you, they support football.” Faisal Chaisti Al-Dawli, 30, can’t help but smile. He looks around and sees only fellow internationals who have fled groups like the Taliban. Like Dastger, Chaiste ended up in the Netherlands as a refugee. The team consists mainly of players who once fled from Afghanistan to the corners of the world, from America to Australia.

Ethnic groups work together in football

The team had to skip two international matches due to the political turmoil in the country. For a long time, the focus was on evacuating football players, and sometimes completing women’s teams. But the invitation from Afghanistan to watch the men’s national soccer team play is increasing. Dastgir is very popular in Afghanistan and is on the cusp of qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time in history. The tournament watched by a billion people, where the Afghans want the “Lions of Khorasan” as the national team is called, I see him shine. The team symbolizes a changing Afghanistan, where players from different ethnic groups such as Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, unlike politics, can work together and achieve success. “You still have your voice, so let the world hear ours too,” Shaista receives such messages via Instagram from Afghans.

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Turkey reporter Mitra Nazar visited the Afghan national team in Antalya:

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