Reality TV to put Afghans in a league of their own
Thousands of Afghan football fans have signed up for the chance to be picked for one of eight teams that will form Afghanistan’s first professional league – with players selected through a reality TV show.
The trials are being filmed for Maidan e Sabz (Green Field). The Afghan Football Federation (AFF) will choose 15 of the 18 players on each team and viewers will vote for the other three.
While cricket has emerged as one of Afghanistan’s most popular sports in the post-Taleban era and members of the national cricket team are revered as heroes, the Afghan football team has had a much lower profile.
It was only at the end of last year, when the Afghan team reached the finals of the South Asian Football Federation Cup that local sports fans began to sit up and take notice. At the start of that game, Afghanistan looked like it was going to give India a drubbing, but sadly for supporters the Afghan squad were thrashed 4-0.
But now, in a bid to boost fitness and help unify war-weary Afghanistan, the AFF is travelling around the country and holding trials in six major cities – including the capital Kabul, Jalalabad in the east, Mazar-e Sharif in the north, Herat in the west, and Kandahar in the south.
In each place, 30 players will be selected from the thousands who have registered. They will then have to demonstrate various skills, such as dribbling the ball and taking penalties as well as passing tests for fitness and mental agility.
“Football is very, very popular in Afghanistan,” said TOLO TV channel manager Massoud Sanjer. “If you walk around, you will see people playing in the parks and even in the dusty streets. Western teams are popular. You can see Barcelona and Real Madrid logos on car stickers and T-shirts.”
In the same way that the cricket team – mainly Pashtuns – is idolised countrywide, regardless of ethnic background, the organisers hope the league will encourage social cohesion.
“Part of football’s force around the world is that it has been good for unity,” Mr Sanjer said.
Members of different ethnic groups will play together on each team, which have names such as the “Eagles of the Hindu Khush,” the “Maiwand Champions” and the “Waves of the Amu”, named after a mountain range, the battlefield where the British were defeated in 1880, and a river respectively.
The organisers also hope that the new league will encourage young Afghans to keep fit.
“As well as providing a strong base on which to build peace, unity and pride among Afghans, we hope it will also encourage a sense of sportsmanship among young people and keep them away from doing drugs and other things that destabilise the country,” said a spokesman for the AFF’s president.
In the first episode – broadcast on 9 July in the primetime 9pm slot – players had to run through mud with weights tied to their ankles before heading a ball. The judges then whittled down the hopefuls to 21. In the final stage of the competition, judges will choose 15 from the 18 would-bes. The studio audience and viewers at home will have the chance to vote for the final three players.
After the teams are chosen, a series of 16 matches will be played in September.
It has not yet been decided if there will be a final prize for the overall winner.
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Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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Wind direction: North east