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A Kolkata Afghan’s gift of rugby to his homeland
« on: July 10, 2011, 06:40:21 AM »

A Kolkata Afghan’s gift of rugby to his homeland

Shivani Naik

Zaffar Khan’s first visit to Afghanistan, the home of his forefathers, last year was traumatic. In Paktia province on the Af-Pak border — from where his parents fled to India as Soviet troops marched into Afghanistan in 1978 — the 26-year-old was accosted by turbaned, heavily bearded men. The men, who Zaffar reckons were the Taliban, took him aside and reprimanded him for roaming about in inappropriate Western attire.

Recently, the rugby player from Kolkata got another chance to visit Afghanistan — travelling to Kabul and Jalalabad as a development coach on the invitation of the newly-formed Afghanistan Rugby Union. And this time, he said, the sport ensured that he found enough reason to feel cheerful.

“My first visit in 2010 was really bad, and after encountering the Talib I was scared of even opening the door while staying with relatives. So this time I had decided I would not move out of Kabul. But I found I could venture out, and really enjoyed meeting young boys who showed enthusiasm for rugby,” Zaffar said.

Zaffar who played for India against Pakistan and Malaysia in 2008, took to the game as a teenager after his dreams of playing competitive cricket were dashed by a back injury. In 2004, Zaffar, who would often hang around watching the Kolkata rugby side Jungle Crows muck about with the egg-shaped ball at the Esplanade Maidan, was invited by Paul Walsh, the Crows’ British coach, to join in.

Zaffar accepted the invite, and is today a regular with the Crows. His family was very supportive, he said, and he soon discovered he had a flair for the hardy sport.

In November last year, Zaffar was contacted by Abdul Khalil, Afghan rugby’s liaison man, who offered him the Rugby Union assignment. He decided to give it a go, and travelled to Afghanistan in mid-June.

“We’re doing well in cricket back in Afghanistan, but those boys have a natural talent for contact sport. There’s wrestling and Thai boxing clubs sprouting everywhere, and I realized in just 15 days that I could go well beyond basics, and get them started on tackles. Rugby is tailor-made for our love for physical sport,” he said.

In Kabul, Zaffar experienced first-hand what makes the Afghans naturally resilient ruggers.

“We were practising at Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium. I was moving around a little gingerly because of all the horrid things like stoning and killing that have happened there in the past. At one point, as I was bending to tie my shoe-laces, I heard a very loud explosion. As I looked up startled, the boys told me to relax: ‘Ustaad, kuchh nahin, roz ka dhamaka hai’. That’s when I knew that rugby tackles could bring no fear to these boys.”

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/a-kolkata-afghans-gift-of-rugby-to-his-homeland/815402/
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