Inaugural Premier League brings hope to young Afghans

Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:13am EDT
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By Miriam Arghandiwal

KABUL (Reuters) - The feeling of optimism in the air was almost palpable as the inaugural Afghan Premier League reached its climax in Kabul on Friday just a stone's throw from where the Taliban carried out public executions.

Waving Afghan flags or wrapping them around their shoulders, around 4,000 fans crammed into a newly built stadium for the culmination of the ambitious three-week championship sponsored by local telecommunications operator Roshan.

"Football is helping these boys by providing a platform for youths to have something to turn to besides drug addiction or joining the insurgency," Afghan Football Federation (AFF) advisor Ali Askar Lali told Reuters.

Eleven years into the NATO-led war against Taliban insurgents, violence is intensifying across Afghanistan, where even some of the most peaceful areas are falling prey to militants.

As the finalists from the eight-team tournament took to the field, fear of the widespread violence engulfing the country was, understandably, still on many minds.

"We were worried throughout the whole tournament that something would happen, but... I don't think anyone could get away with trying to ruin this," Lali shouted above the din of screaming crowds.

The event culminated with Toofan Harirod, representing the western region, beating northwestern region's Simorgh Alborz 2-1 in a final held near the notorious Ghazi stadium, where the Taliban held public executions during their 1996-2001 reign.

All of Afghanistan's 34 provinces were represented in a tournament broadcast live on television and radio stations belonging to Moby Group, run by Austalian-educated Kabul tycoon Saad Mohseni.   Continued...

Tofan Harirod soccer players throw their coach in the air after beating Simorgh Ablorz in the final match of the Afghan soccer premier league in Kabul October 19, 2012. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani