In Summary
  • Afghanistan is not yet a member of the World Rugby governing body, but has received support from the Asian federation, which helps it train referees and coaches.

KABUL

Thirty or so teenagers kick up dust as they sprint around a field in Kabul, focused intensely as they chase an oval ball in the sweltering heat.

The players are sweating profusely but that has not dampened their enthusiasm for their new-found sport: rugby.

Essentially unheard of before the arrival of international forces, the sport has slowly begun to pick up steam in Afghanistan, where football, cricket and body-building are better known.

"I love the tackles and passes of rugby," said 16-year-old Lutfullah Kazemi, a high-school student who previously had been a football fan. He was drawn to the game largely because of its novelty, but stuck with it and now dreams of an international career.

In this photo taken on June 13, 2019, a young rugby player charges to the try line in a practice session on a pitch in Kabul. PHOTO | WAKIL KOHSAR | AFP

In this photo taken on June 13, 2019, a young rugby player charges to the try line in a practice session on a pitch in Kabul. PHOTO | WAKIL KOHSAR | AFP

In a country that has been at war for four decades, tough-guy sports including body building and taekwondo already have found a loyal following.

And thanks to the efforts over several years by die-hard fans, awareness around rugby is growing.

Stephen Brooking, a Briton who advises the Afghan Rugby Federation, is convinced Afghans have the characteristics to shine at the sport, notably physical conditioning.

For the moment, the focus is on seven-a-side rugby, known as rugby sevens, as it is the best way to build skills and is easier to understand than 15-a-side.

"They have the skills, they have the fitness, they have the strength," Brooking told AFP.

"You get some very big strong Afghans and I think they would be also good at fifteens. Eventually, I am sure Afghanistan will produce a strong 15-a-side rugby team."

But conditions are less than ideal. Chunks of synthetic grass have been torn from the Kabul pitch, making tackling dangerous.

In this photo taken on June 13, 2019, young rugby players take part in a practice session on a pitch in Kabul. PHOTO | WAKIL KOHSAR | AFP

In this photo taken on June 13, 2019, young rugby players take part in a practice session on a pitch in Kabul. PHOTO | WAKIL KOHSAR | AFP

Page 1 of 2