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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Afghans dream of Olympic glory
By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC correspondent in Kabul

Afghanistan's former Taleban rulers kept the country away from the 2000 Olympics.

Afghan boxers in training
The Afghan boxing team are training hard for the games
Post-Taleban, Afghans are preparing to take part in next year's games in Athens.

They are sending only a small contingent to Greece - Afghans are participating in only a handful of sports.

But there's no mistaking the excitement across Afghanistan in the build-up to Athens 2004.

Boxers fear nobody

The Afghan boxing team have been practising hard for the big event. They want to punch their way to world recognition.

The Taleban's harsh world view meant international isolation for Afghan sportsmen and women.

This government has allowed us to participate - it's good for us
Besharmaz Sultani
boxer
Boxers were disqualified from international events because they were forced to grow beards under Taleban rule.

But even then they never stopped practising, according to Ismail ur-Rehmat, national boxing team coach.

"When the Taleban used to come we used to do as they said, but once they were gone we practised as per international standards," Mr Rehmat told the BBC.

Now his team fear nobody and they want to be a part of the international fraternity once again.

Besharmaz Sultani will be representing his country in next year's Olympics.

"I am very happy," he says. "This government has allowed us to participate - it's good for us."

'Way forward'

A soccer match played soon after the fall of the Taleban in Kabul truly reflected the Afghan passion for sports.

The local team lost to a team of international security force personnel.

Olympics will restore our association with the international community
Sayeed Mahmood Dashti
Vice president Afghan Olympic Committee
But the result mattered little to the thousands of spectators who had come to see the game.

For a generation traumatised by war and devastation, it was a welcome change.

According to the vice president of the Afghan Olympic Committee, Sayeed Mahmood Dashti, the Olympics will give the Afghans an opportunity to share the world stage with others.

"It's the way forward for us," Mr Dashti says. "Olympics will restore our association with the international community."

Medal hopes

Forced to see the world through a veil for many years, Afghan women are now basking in their new found freedom.

Member of women's horse-riding team
The women have high hopes in the equestrian events
Sport is helping them make a comeback into the national and international mainstream.

Neema Soratgar is a horse rider and a member of the national Olympic committee.

"For so long they were in burqa, they were reluctant to come out. But Afghan women are brave. They will show good results," she says.

The Olympics may not be a way out of all the problems the Afghans are facing in their post-Taleban renewal - but they are helping them get over a turbulent past and look at the future with a lot of hope.

One can scarcely imagine the pride and joy here should one of their proud sportspeople come back from Athens with a medal.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Sanjeev Srivastava
"They are happy just being allowed to take part in the games"



SEE ALSO:
Afghanistan back in Olympics
29 Jun 03  |  South Asia
IOC rejects Taleban plea
18 Aug 00  |  South Asia


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