x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The joy of normality

The national football and cricket teams obviously won't solve Afghanistan's problems. But international sport can help build unity, and reaffirms peaceful values.

Any football fan knows that 10 years is far too long to wait for the next home game. So it's easy to understand the sheer joy, even exhilaration, of fans in Kabul on Tuesday, as they watched their national team's first international match since 2003. Better still, the dominant Afghan side beat Pakistan 3-0.

To be sure, it will take more than a few sporting events to heal Afghanistan's wounds, or soothe relations with Pakistan. And yet, consciously or not, the fans in Kabul were celebrating not merely a great victory, but also the simple pleasure of normality.

International sport can help build national unity. Afghanistan is in some ways more a concept than a country, a place where disparate ethnic groups are divided further by mountainous geography. Aside from the need to repel invaders, Afghans don't agree on very much.

But sport offers a kind of unity. The national cricket team has weathered the country's bad years to become, as recounted in the documentary film Out of the Ashes, a source of national pride. And now football.

National teams won't solve Afghanistan's problems but we all, like those fans in Kabul, need to be reminded that the Afghan people want the same things - including the occasional sporting triumph.