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Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Afghan soccer defectors return
Kabul youth team Pamir
Afghans are keen football players

The head of the Afghan Olympic committee, Mohammad Anwar Jakdalak has said that 20 members of a football team, who defected en masse to West Germany at the start of the civil war, have returned to Afghanistan.

He also announced that an Afghan team would be participating in the Asian games in September.


One wrestler, who had watched his chances of winning medals disappear as the years went past, said it had been like living in prison

Under the Taleban it was almost impossible for Afghans to compete internationally, because no country would recognise their teams.

The 20 returning footballers will play a last soccer match against staff from the Olympic committee, before formally retiring.

"It will be an even match," Mr Jakdalak said, "we are all old now."

The defection of most of the national soccer team 20 years ago was a protest against the recent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Communist revolution.

Banned from Olympics

Their homecoming is a symbol of turning fortunes for Afghan sportspeople.

Afghans are among the very few nationalities not to compete in the last Olympics, banned because their government, the Taleban, were not recognised.

And even if people got personal invitations to compete abroad, it was virtually impossible for them to get visas.

One wrestler, who had watched his chances of winning medals disappear as the years went past, said it had been like living in prison.

Now at least 30 Afghans, men and women, will get the chance to go to the Asian Games in South Korea in September.

They will mainly be competing in the martial arts, tae kwon do, karate and boxing - sports where Afghans have traditionally excelled.


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08 Feb 02 | UK Politics
15 Dec 01 | South Asia
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