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Afghanistan to compete in the Winter Olympics for the first time

Copyrights: Picture was taken from Sajjad Husaini Instagram

Afghanistan to compete in the Winter Olympics for the first time

The story of two Afghan skiers is a story that defies the norms.

Sajjad Husaini and Alishah Farhang are going to make Olympic history at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. The Afghanistan Olympic Committee President Mohammad Zahir Aghbar registered the two in November 2017, and news of their acceptance broke shortly afterwards. Their stories stand out, not only because they are the first ones who represent a long time war-torn country, but because of their modest beginnings. 

Their journey to Olympic enrolment does not parallel a typical athlete’s journey. It reflects how true passion and love of the sport have been a driving factor for the two skiers. After living as a refugee in Iran for 13 years, the 26-year-old Husaini returned to Afghanistan and started skiing at the age of 21. Farhang, who is 27, started skiing in 2011 at the age of 19. Both skiers were much older than when most professional athletes are introduced to the sport.

“We wanted to represent Afghanistan in a different way, to show the other countries that Afghanistan is not only war and destruction“ said Husaini

Afghanistan’s winter clomate and mountainous terrain make it an ideal place for winter sports; however, the country has not been a part of the Winter Olympics for a multitude of reasons, including Afghanistan’s history of conflict and limited sports infrastructure.

For the two athletes, skiing began in the region of Bamyan in central Afghanistan, where there are no special slopes, lifts or huts. Skiers trek up the mountain each time to go down the unkempt slopes. A couple of Swiss coaches and a British ski company officially started skiing in the area. Both Husaini and Farhang are currently training in the St. Moritz resort in the Swiss Alps. 

One lesson should be learned from this, that inclusion is not just an individual case, it is also a political and economic issue. The most successful countries in skiing are European and North American. Unlike Afghanistan, Nepal, Chile and Argentina have competed at the Winter Olympics; however, they are examples of countries that have never won medals despite appropriate terrain and weather conditions.

For the two Afghan athletes, the Winter Olympics are a dream come true, and an opportunity which will bring a glimmer of hope for their country as well.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - 09:56