Their names are Ahmad Shabir (-66kg), Mod Reshad (-73kg), Mirullah (-66kg), Faisal (-90kg) and Jamaluddin (-81kg). Coached by Faiz Zada, under the watchful eye of their President Zabiullah, they arrive straight from Kabul in Afghanistan and their presence in Astana alone is already a feat.
The Afghan team in Astana

Afghanistan is not far though but, for the national team, travelling to Kazakhstan was not easy. All agree that "without the IJF nothing would have been possible and we are very grateful. The international federation supports us and we appreciate it enormously," explained Faisal who, in perfect English, is the spokesperson for his teammates.

"We are just happy to be here because it will help us improve a lot. After this trip to Astana we can go home and work even harder," added Faisal.

The situation in Afghanistan is complex and training to perform at the highest level is not easy, yet the Afghan team has nothing to be ashamed of, quite the contrary. Although they have been absent from the world circuit in recent years, their return to the World Judo Tour is highly significant for all the athletes. Faiz Zada explained, "I'm very happy to have been able to come with five athletes. It's a beautiful delegation. We can't say it enough, but without the IJF, we simply wouldn't be here. The economic situation at home does not allow us to consider trips like this without the full and complete support of the international federation.

Faisal Jabar Khil (AFG), -90kg

I am convinced that Astana will not only remain a great memory for my athletes, but also for me. We are learning, we are learning a lot. We are lacking of a lot of things back home and that's why we will take advantage of everything that is offered to us."

Mod Reshad, also wished to share his point of view, "There is of course the support of the IJF but there is also our federation which, with its president, does everything so that we can progress, in a context which is difficult. It feels good to be here, to rub shoulders with other judo nations, to watch what they do and how they do it. If we stay in Afghanistan only, it is difficult to progress. We need competitions, training camps and other development opportunities.”

It's as simple as that, in judo, an opposition sport par excellence, you need opposition and that's what the national team came to find in Kazakhstan. “Everything is going well. We are really happy to see how everything is unfolding. It is a great learning experience for all of us,” added President Zabiullah Nazari, before continuing, “I am personally very happy to see the behaviour of my guys. We have a great team that deserves to grow in judo. I now have the chance to be able to work with a motivated federal team that does a lot for the development of judo in all sectors and not only in that of sport. I want to talk here about refereeing and education for all our members without discrimination. I am convinced that judo brings people together. We all have to face problems, life is a risky game, but thanks to judo we can learn how to fight, in the noblest sense of the word. All I want is to see my athletes at the top." To achieve that, while his athletes were on the tatami, Zabiullah multiplied the meetings and discussions.

Faisal Jabar Khil (AFG) in action

It will take more work, it is obvious and logical. "Since I was a child, I have had a goal in my life, that of being a judo champion. Thanks to everyone's support, I can and want to achieve it. My country is a poor country, we don't have a lot of resources. That's why I also have to work alongside judo, but always, judo remains my priority, my passion and my objective. We have to face a lot of issues, but precisely because we are judoka, we have learned to face them. Judo teaches us to manage our daily stress, teaches us to live together, with respect for each other. It's a challenge, but life is a challenge no matter what. A long time ago, I promised myself never to leave judo and by being present in Astana, that's what I am proving, like all my teammates in the national team," added Faisal, before realising that he must quickly move to the call room, because his first contest was about to begin.

Qazaqstan Barysy Grand Slam 2023, Round 1 QADERI (AFG) vs URQUIZA SOLANA (ESP) , -81 kg

During this first bout precisely, he only lost in the very last seconds against Mansur Lorsanov (AIN). It was a very good performance when we know the lack of infrastructure available to the Afghan team. Beyond the result, the participation of Ahmad Shabir, Mod Reshad, Mirullah, Faisal and Jamaluddin is symbolic, in the best sense of the term. It is symbolic of the strength of judo, of its ability to transcend adversity, of its role as a link and social binder. The presence of Afghanistan in Astana goes beyond the symbolic nature it represents. It is a message of hope for all those who suffer throughout the world.

See also