Afghan athletes hope for Indian support

100m specialist and Rio 2016 participant Abdul Wahab Zahiri makes an honest appeal to the Indian authorities: help us the way you have helped Afghanistan cricket.

Abdul Wahab Zahiri (first from left) participated at Rio Games in 2016. Photo: Getty Images

Afghanistan’s athletes hope for logistical and financial support from India in future, like the country’s cricketers have received.

The Games-bound athletes from Afghanistan had their hearts in their mouths as they arrived in Indonesia after a brush with American war tanks on their way to the airport in Kabul.

As they headed towards the airport, the 100-odd contingent of Afghan athletes saw American war tanks approach their Asian Games-bound contingent bus. Much to their relief, they were just asked to make way for the tanks. Three out of those athletes, who watched blasts rock Kabul on Wednesday, are 100m specialists Abdul Wahab Zahiri and Kamia Yousufi, who competed at Rio Olympics, and sprinter Sadia Bromand.

Constant terror

The relief was palpable on the face of Zahiri as he spoke to PTI, reliving the scary experience at home. “You won’t understand how we felt when we saw the American tanks. We constantly live in terror. But we want to live a peaceful life. We want to achieve our dreams, make our country proud,” said Zahiri.

The Afghans have seen cricket flourishing in their country with significant help from India, and leg-spinner Rashid Khan, still a teenager, gaining the status of a superstar after appearing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) along with other cricketers from his country.

The non-cricket sportspersons are also looking towards India for help, to live their dreams.

‘Need support’

Zahiri made an honest appeal to the Indian authorities: help us the way you have helped Afghanistan cricket.

While Zahiri developed a liking for the sport while studying in Lahore University, Yousufi chased her dream in her birthplace Iran. “When it comes to talent, Afghanistan has that in abundance. We just need support. When we left Kabul [on Wednesday], there was a blast. There is a blast almost every day. That sums up our story but we still continue to train and work hard,” Zahiri said.

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Zahiri, who claimed to have met cricket star Rashid in Lahore six years ago, said athletes could go a long way if they get the same support from India that Afghanistan’s cricketers have received. “I just trained for a month and showed up here. I want to train in India in the long run so that I can improve my timings. I have written to Athletics Federation of India many times, most recently in 2015, but have not got a response yet,” said Zahiri, whose personal best in 100m is 11.56 seconds, achieved at the Rio Olympics.

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Zahiri revealed that each athlete got approximately ₹28,000 for the entire duration of the Games. “My shoes only come for ₹6,000. What do I do with this little amount? I am just continuing running because of my brother’s support. Else I would not have been able to survive,” said the 26-year-old, who himself has two kids.

‘Very tough’ to be sportsperson

Zahiri hopes other sporting disciplines blossom like cricket has done in Afghanistan. “Cricket has become so big in very little time,” he said.

Like Zahiri, Olympian Kamia competed at Rio Games, and now wants to train in India. “I cannot train in Afghanistan because of safety reasons. Training in India would give me the right kind of exposure. [I] hope something can be worked out. It is very tough to be a sportsperson in Afghanistan,” Kamia, who wears a hijab while training, says.

Sadia, another athlete from Afghanistan and who went to Rio as Kamia’s coach, has similar aspirations. “It will be a big relief if we are to train without worrying about our safety in Afghanistan,” she said.