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Afghan athletes gear up for Hangzhou Asiad

Updated: 2023-09-12 07:50
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Afghan wushu athletes train in Kabul as they prepare for the forthcoming 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou. Four Afghan athletes will compete in wushu at the Asiad. [Photo/Xinhua]

KABUL — At a training hall in Kabul, six Afghan athletes practiced their martial arts moves. Despite limited facilities and a baking sun raising the temperature inside the venue, they are fully prepared for the 19th Asian Games, which open on Sept 23 in Hangzhou.

The Afghanistan team plans to send four athletes, a coach and a team leader to the Asiad to compete in wushu sanda, a fighting system based on traditional kung fu and modern combat techniques.

Responsible for selecting outstanding athletes for the national team, the Afghanistan Wushu Federation was initially established in the western province of Herat in 2000.

Coach Gulgul Shah Khalid said that the federation has registered more than 6,000 wushu athletes from 28 provinces. As well as wushu sanda, they practice taolu, a discipline involving choreographed movements.

"We have 44 athletes involved in the national team's daily training," Khalid said.

Mohammad Khalid Hotak, 30, is one of the most prominent wushu athletes on the team.

His love of wushu was sparked by watching Chinese kung fu movie stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li during his youth.

Going to China to participate in a martial arts competition has always been a dream for Hotak.

"Wushu's discipline is a message of peace and friendship, and it creates peace and brotherhood," Hotak said.

In 2013, Hotak won a bronze medal in the men's sanda 60 kg competition at the 12th World Wushu Championships held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was the first medal he won at an international wushu event.

"I have competed with champions from China four times. It is a very good experience for me, and it also allows me to understand the skills of Chinese players," said Hotak, who will compete in the men's sanda 70 kg competition in Hangzhou.

Hotak said that wushu is a relatively small sport in Afghanistan, and wushu athletes do not receive salaries like their soccer and cricket counterparts. Winning prize money at tournaments and championships is the only way for them to earn a living from the sport.

"There are 11 people in our family. My father gave me the greatest support. I am delighted to continue participating in this sport," added Hotak.

"I will work harder, continue to win championships and medals, and succeed in high-level competitions," he said, adding that he hopes to introduce wushu to more Afghans through his personal endeavors.

Afghanistan's team leader, Ehsan Ahmed Karukhil, says it is far from easy to make it to the national squad, and the selection criteria are even higher for international competitions.

Provincial representatives are usually chosen first and then trials are held to select the national team members — in the case of the Hangzhou Asian Games, comprising four athletes.

Karukhil has been a wushu coach for nearly 28 years. In 2008, he became an international martial arts referee. He has witnessed martial arts' struggles and successes through the decades in his country.

He said that the war, which raged between 2001 and 2014, displaced many athletes, but those that remained stick to their craft and insist on training.

Due to a shortage of funds to purchase equipment needed for taolu events, the team can only participate in sanda events now.

Most team members come from impoverished families, and many athletes have to do odd jobs before and after training to support their families.

"In fact, the level of this event is higher. Afghan champions previously won medals from such competitions, so it is expected that we will have a positive and good result this year as well," Karukhil said.

According to Afghanistan's General Directorate of Physical Education and Sports, 17 sports teams, including wushu, soccer, volleyball and cricket, will participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games.


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