Thursday, March 04, 2010

Afghanistan: Cricket versus narcotics

Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) - For Bashir Ahmad, who runs a sports shop in downtown Jalalabad, the last three weeks have probably been the busiest since he opened his business nine years ago.

An unexpected rise in the sale of cricket gear has come as a windfall, earning shopkeepers huge profits, thanks to Afghanistan's cricket-frenzied youth.

Since Afghanistan beat USA on 11 February to qualify for the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup to be held in the West Indies in April-May this year, the excitement among the youth is quickly growing in this part of Afghanistan.

Even days after the famous victory, jubilant young men continued to spill on to the streets, dancing, singing nationalistic songs and hoisting Afghan flags.

"Compared to last month, sales have more than doubled," said Mr Ahmad.

In Jalalabad, a social organization called Youth in Action Association (YIAA), which is "dedicated to enhance peace and sustainable development in Afghanistan," has tapped the growing interest among the local youth in cricket to raise public awareness against narcotics.

Riaz Ahmad, who owns a sports shop at Amanzada Market in Jalalabad, said he only sold 15 sets of cricket equipment (bat, ball and stumps) before Afghanistan beat USA in Dubai.

"Now, we receive up to 40 customers on a given day," he told UNAMA, while his hands continued to pack a cricket bat and a ball to a new customer named Mahirullah.

Mr Mahirullah, who recently graduated from the political science faculty of Nangarhar University, said the interest among the youth for cricket has dramatically increased in recent days.

On 27 February, YIAA, in collaboration with Afghanistan Municipality Strengthening Program (AMSP), started a cricket tournament against narcotics with themes such as 'Cricket Against Narcotics' and 'Fighting Narcotics Through Sports.'

Four teams – namely YIAA, Ghawchako, Etihad and Cricket Academy – of 15 players each from Nangarhar province are participating in the eight-day tournament, according to a press release issued by YIAA in Jalalabad.

On the first day, YIAA beat Cricket Academy by 38 runs.

Speaking at the opening event, YIAA President Sayed Ikram Afzali emphasized the role played by the youth in fighting social ills such as substance abuse and narcotics peddling.

"Sports like cricket can play an important role in personal and social development of youth," Mr Afzali told the event, which saw a gathering of a large number of locals, youth leaders and government representatives.

The cricket venue is full of banners with anti-narcotics messages and the organisers have been distributing brochures carrying similar messages to the audience.

AMSP Manager Saad Malook Sherzad said the youth have the power to bring about positive changes in society.

According to Alam Ghalib, Provincial Coordinator of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the number of people involved in substance abuse is on the rise.

"Even doctors in the 20-bed ward of Public Health Hospital can't treat all the patients," said Mr Ghalib.

By Tilak Pokharel and Shafiqullah Waak, UNAMA

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