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Rugby in Afghanistan

Rugby in Afghanistan

This report has been forwarded to me by Zaffar Khan and it’s an inspirational piece that I urge you to read. I love stories like these and it is just this kind of thing that I had in mind when I opened up my news section to cover clubs outside of our portfolio. I wish Zaffar all the luck in the world and RuckinRugby will continue to support him and Afghanistan Rugby in all that they do.

Report on Afghanistan Rugby

by Zaffar Khan

Introduction

My name is Zaffar Khan.   I am a 25 years old Indian Citizen of Afghan origin and I have been playing rugby for the last 8 years. I got introduced to the game through my local club the Jungle Crows in Kolkata when I was 17. Through the support of the club founder, Paul Walsh, I got selected for the West Bengal state team and in 2008 I was selected for the Indian National Team.

In September 2010 I became a project Manager with the Jungle Crows.  The club not only plays rugby but has also set up a number of social projects to help less privileged people and children in India which I manage.  One of those projects is “Khelo Rugby” started in January 2009 which takes sporting opportunities to young children in disadvantaged communities/slums.  Using the sport of rugby we aim to make a positive impact in these communities.

I  have also organised the” Jungle Crows Workforce” which has taken on a number of clean-up missions – tidying up the playground at a Government Girls High School which had been completely ambushed with weeds and litter for the last 20 years and refurbishing a dis-used community hall in a slum called Brooklyn.

I have also helped organise the annual Jungle Crows Corporate Touch Rugby Tournament which is a carnival of 10 plus corporate teams competing against each other.

In December 2010 I was contacted by the Afghan Rugby Federation and invited to coach and select the national Afghan team primarily because I speak the local language, Pashto, and have some experience in the game.

KABUL – The Camp

On 20th May 2011 I arrived in Kabul to begin the 10-Day Camp.  Although I have visited Kabul before I was excited to be back and try and spread awareness of the game.

A typical day at the camp began at 5.00am with a morning training session of 2.5 hours at the Ghazi Stadium.  It is an early start as many of the boys participating in the programme have to go to school or work after the session finishes.  However at this time of the morning the weather conditions are prefect as it gets very hot later in the day.

Rugby training in Afghanistan

Rugby training in Afghanistan

Day 1 – when I arrived at the stadium there were only 7 boys ready to learn how to play rugby.  None of these boys had seen a rugby ball before so I started teaching the basic skills such as throwing and catching the ball, backward passing and introducing them to some of the technical terms used in the game such as “Knock-on”, “Scrum” “Line-Out” and so on.

Day 2 – The word about the camp had spread and we had 18 boys at the session. We ran through the basics again very quickly and then I introduced tackling.   Initially we used the tackle pads and then later in the practice the pads were removed and the boys tackled each other.  I finished the session with the boys playing a full rugby contact game.  It was amazing to see the boys learning the rules quickly and putting them into play.  I felt we were achieving things fast!

Day 3 – Even more boys came along to join the session.  I introduced rucking and scrum techniques.  At first the boys found it difficult because of the physical contact but they soon got used it and by the end of the session I think they enjoyed it because it allowed them to get their aggression out on the field.

Day 4/5 – we had 26 boys participating ranging between the ages of 15 – 24 and all of different abilities.

Day 6 – we travelled to Jalalabad with a group of 6 boys plus our Manager Ashur and the Doctor, to run the second phase of the Camp.  We coached 20 boys and selected 4 potentials for the national team who have returned with us to Kabul to participate in Phase 3 of the Camp.

Jalalabad

Zaffar Khan coaching in Jalabad

Zaffar Khan coaching in Jalabad

The camp at Jalalabad began with six of the boys from Kabul who volunteered to help us showing what they knew. Mr Ashur (Manager) as usual was great with his organisation of stuff required for the camp, accommodation and food.

Day 1 – we reached there and in the evening we had to look for a suitable place to practice.  After lot of “no’s”  we found a cricket ground which the chief was kind enough to let us use for the days we were in Jalalabad. On the first day we had 2 boys because of lack of information to the people and the media not informed.

Day 2 – we started practice at 5am and had practice in the late evening. We found more boys and the total went up to almost 20 boys. Most of the boys we found were under 19’s out of which we choose 4 who seemed to catch the game up quickly. One news agency also came for interviews.

Day 3 – we had practice in the morning and most of the boys turned up and then it was of back to Kabul. So we now had selected 4 boys from Jalalabad out of which two came to Kabul and 2 were not able to make the team because of their school exams.

The Enthusiasm!

The boys are very enthusiastic to learn and there are some amazingly talented players who we will be putting forward for the national team.  At the start of the camp I quickly realized that most of them had never even seen the game of rugby.  They were more familiar with cricket. However I was impressed with how quick the boys picked up the skills and learnt the rules of backward passing, knock-ons etc.

One of the things we do need to work on is improving their fitness.  Because of the high altitude the boys were not used to the intensive training and the amount of running involved so we incorporated plenty of water breaks.  But I also saw a massive improvement in their fitness with each session.

Dealing with the Media

Midway through the session on the first day of Camp we met the Chairman of the Afghan Olympic Federation and did 10 media interviews!!!  I found the interviewers were curious about the game off which they had little knowledge and they asked us interesting questions like

  • “what is the weight of the ball”
  • “How many players in a team”
  • “How long is a rugby pitch”

My Recommendations

In order to see the game of rugby expand in Afghanistan I would recommend the following:

  • Grassroots coaching and introduction in a small group of schools/colleges perhaps using tag rugby
  • Employ some experienced rugby coaches
  • Run camps to train up coaches and referees
  • Acquire a rugby playing ground
  • Purchase equipment and kit
  • Gain assured access to medical and first aid facilities
  • Set budgets
  • In parallel develop a senior 15-a-side team to join Asian 5 Nations, an under 20 team to play in Asian junior tournaments and a senior sevens team.  Players can be in more than one squad.
  • Seek Invitations from other countries for the Afghan national squad to play friendly matches and take part in tournaments such as the Asian 5 Nations.
  • Work on getting ARF to join the IRB, Afghan Olympic Association, Asian Rugby Union
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