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Monday, October 26, 1998 Published at 14:51 GMT

World: South Asia

Boxing ban on bearded Taleban

Taleban law insists all men must wear beards

By William Reeve in the Afghan capital Kabul

Three Afghan boxers - two lightweights and a middleweight - are now on their way back from Karachi. But their dreams of winning any medals were dashed before they struck a single blow.

Officials supervising the event said they were forced to ban the Afghan boxers as the International Amateur Boxing Association rules prevent any competitor with a beard entering the ring.

These rules are for several reasons, not least because the referee might not be able to see bad cuts from blows to the chin.

Shave and be punished

In any case, the three Afghans refused to comply because if they came back to Afghanistan clean shaven they would be punished.

The Taleban insists that under their interpretation of Islamic Sharia law all men must wear beards.

It was a dilemma for them, but it is also an issue the Taleban sports authorities are now addressing.

The head of the Taleban Olympic Committee, Mullah Abdul Shukar Motma'in, said the organisers of the event, in which more than 100 boxers from over 20 countries took part, should have told them about the problem with beards when they were invited to the event.

He said there was no question of Afghan competitors shaving off their beards, but he said he wanted to know in advance the rulings in other countries.

Afghanistan has been invited to take part in the Asian games in Thailand in December, but Mullah Motma'in said he still did not know if bearded boxers would be allowed to take part.

He said most boxers have hair on top of their heads so why shouldn't they have beards as well?

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