In an Afghan society deeply divided along ethnic lines, recollects Montazerul Mehdi, Taekwondo player Rohullah Nikpai’s bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics triggered a unique emotion.
“That was probably the first time all the tribes (Pashtuns, Hazras, Tajiks, Uzbeks et al) got together and cheered. They didn’t care which group he belonged to. For them, he was an Afghan,” says Mehdi, an Afghan national now based in Australia.
The 24-year-old Masters graduate recalls how the achievement in 2008 led to widespread following of the London Games in 2012. Nikpai won another bronze that time around. “The celebrations were much bigger because by then people knew what the Olympics were about,” states Mehdi.
Despite having moved to Australia with his elder brother Alamdar Hussain in 2000, Mehdi remains attached with his homeland. “The hatred of the civil war has been passed down from generation to generation. A lot of the people are uneducated, so they can’t think for themselves. And when the radicals (Taliban) come into the picture, there is a lot more intolerance,” he says.
But there have been occasional moments of shared joy as well, mostly coming from the field of sports. “Afghans as a whole have a positive ‘curse.’ No matter what the situation is, they will always find solitude in sport. It doesn’t matter what the game is, as long there is something, people will lower their weapons and clap and support their team,” he asserts.
They are now supporting, wholeheartedly, their cricket team, which have made the showpiece event for the first time. Being in the host nation Australia — Hussain studying in Melbourne and Mehdi now working at a non-profit organisation in Adelaide — has given the brothers a great chance to watch their team play first hand. Both have started making plans to watch the games — from the stands and in pubs.
They rate their fast bowlers highly and expect their team to cause an upset or two. “The other teams don’t know our game too well, but we know theirs. That can work in our favour,” Mehdi mentions.
“There’s a vibe that is coming from the World Cup. People are going to get together and watch. Maybe they won’t forget about war, but at least they will be at peace during every 50 overs our team plays in,” Mehdi concludes.