The new Radio Azadi
team is serious about their cricket. "We want to be as active [in cricket] as we are active in the news," boasts Abdul Hameed Mohmand, a correspondent with RFE/RL's Afghan Service, and the team's captain. The players work carefully to balance work and several cricket practices a week.
But, journalism comes first for the Azadi team. "When we were invited to our first tournament we only accepted on the condition that if the election issue grew more serious we could withdraw," says Mohamand. As the Afghan Presidential elections of 2009 approached the team dropped their cricket bats and focused on election coverage.
Radio Azadi's popularity in Afghanistan ensured that the launching of the team last year was a major media event. The ceremony was covered by the local Afghan media and attended by the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, Mobarez Rashid. The crowds at team matches average 550+ fans and are larger on Fridays. So far the team has appeared in two invitational
When we were invited to our first tournament we only accepted on the condition that if the election issue grew more serious we could withdraw.
tournaments and a number of informal exhibition matches. Radio Azadi's Qadir Habib says, "[In creating this team] we are showing the people we are not only about the news, we are showing them what you are interested in [culturally] we are interested in too."
The team's sixteen players range in age from 25 to 55 and all have cricket experience. Several months ago, Afghan national team star Dawlat Ahmadzai
bowled against the team and came away from the session praising Azadi's batsmen. Radio Azadi coverage of the Afghani national cricket team has also been strong and many of the national team members know the journalists by name. "It's not that our journalists are excited to meet [national team members], it's that they are excited to meet us," says Qadir Habib.
The Radio Azadi team has bold plans for the future. They hope to sponsor a cricket tournament in Afghanistan and to launch a Radio Azadi Football Club.They have been invited by Indian journalists to Delhi to play a cricket match. "Afghanistan has many problems that cricket can't solve. But I think this team is good for both our radio and the community," says Habib.
Azadi is one of eight cricket teams formed by Afghan media organizations in recent years. It is believed that the first cricket match in Afghanistan was played in 1839 by occupying British soldiers. In the 1990s, Afghan refugees in cricket-mad Pakistan took up the game. These refugees returned home with the game which, during Taliban rule, was one of the few permissible sports. As a result, cricket was sometimes perceived as a Pashtun game - a perception that has changed over time. "Today it's played in Kabul, in Northern cities, all over...now there is a player on the U-19s who is not Pashtun. Cricket is a British game not a Pashtun game," explains Radio Azadi correspondent Mohmand. Afghanistan joined the International Cricket Council in 2001.
Mohmand muses on the future of cricket in his country: "In five years, cricket will be more popular than football. Maybe you will see every street filled with people playing cricket like you see people playing cricket in India and Pakistan." Nearby colleagues nodded their head in agreement.
- Joseph Hammond