Taliban death stadium reborn as Afghan sporting hope

Thu Dec 15, 2011 4:30am EST
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By Daniel Magnowski

KABUL (Reuters) - Its pitch, they said, was so bloodsoaked that grass would not grow. For years, the only spectacles on offer at the Ghazi Stadium in the Afghan capital were executions, stonings and mutilations by the Taliban, rulers of the country from 1996 to 2001.

On Thursday, thousands of young Afghan athletes wearing soccer strips, boxing and running warmup gear, and the belted white suits of martial artists, came to the stadium to celebrate its official re-opening.

This time, the grass has been ripped up and replaced with bright green artificial turf, part of a U.S.-funded stadium refurbishment.

"Of all the international projects implemented in Afghanistan, this is one of the most popular, it enjoys the support of all Afghans," said Lieutenant General Mohammad Zaher Aghbar, president of Afghanistan's National Olympic Committee, and a goalkeeper with the army's soccer team for five years.

"The place that once was used to execute people during the Taliban, and then football played on their blood, is now turned into a peaceful place," he said.

"Sport helps societies get together, it will strengthen our national solidarity," Aghbar said, adding that he was trying to line up foreign boxing and soccer teams to come to Ghazi Stadium in early 2012.

Ghazi, a title normally used to describe Muslim warriors who slay non-believers in battle, is a title also bestowed by many Afghans on those who fought the British army to win independence for Afghanistan in the early 20th century.

During the opening ceremony, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. troops in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Allen, and other military officials were presented with medals.   Continued...