'Quite sore, but I am doing it to give smiles for Afghans': T20 World Cup superfan

Rahim Sediqi has split loyalties in crunch match against New Zealand - despite what his body paint suggests

It would be impossible to question Rahim Sediqi’s loyalty to Afghanistan. His commitment to supporting their national cricket team is both vivid and costly.

He has paid to travel to most competitions they have played in for the past decade, including to the UAE for the T20 World Cup.

While he has been here for this tournament, he has paid Dh500 per match for a Pakistani artist to paint various motifs all over him, expressing his love for his homeland.

It has led to rashes, but he does not care. “It is quite sore, because the body paint is dangerous for the body, but I am still doing it so I can give some smiles for my countrymen,” Sediqi said.

For their match against India, the map of Afghanistan, picked out in the black, red and green of the Afghan tricolour adorned the right-hand side of his face.

On his torso was an intricately drawn lion in similar colours. On his back, also against the background of a tricolour, was the slogan: “Only cricket makes Afghans smile”.

He wore one flag as a bandanna, and carried another one besides.

For the side’s final Super 12 match against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, which they must win to stand a chance of advancing, expect his get-up to be much the same.

And yet, when it comes to picking a winner, the Afghanistan superfan admits he has split allegiances.

“I have to support both teams,” Sediqi said.

Sediqi has flown into the Emirates for this tournament from Auckland. He has lived in New Zealand for 12 years, having moved there to join his family, who fled the country 24 years ago because of the Taliban.

“The people of Afghanistan need us to support the team through this hard time,” he said.

“It is a proud moment. The team is almost in the semi-final. But at the same time I also support New Zealand.

“I have lived there for a long time, the people are nice, and always they give love to us. We try to show the world that we are lovely people, us Afghans.”

Sediqi is grateful for the way he and his family have been welcomed in New Zealand.

He proudly reports he went to the same college as Martin Guptill, the New Zealand opener who will be a sizeable obstacle between the Afghans and a place in the last four.

“The situation was really bad there, so my family moved as refugees,” he said of his family’s exile from Afghanistan.

“They went to Pakistan. From Pakistan they went to Malaysia, and from there some of the people went to Australia, others went to New Zealand.

“They sponsored me to follow them. New Zealand is a really nice country. They really look after people.

“They don’t look at people and say, ‘Oh, you are Afghans,’ or, ‘Oh, you are Americans, or Pakistanis.’ They just look after all of them.”

Not much more than a year after being in New Zealand, he started travelling the globe supporting the Afghan cricket team.

The players of the trailblazing side, who had raced through the lower reaches of international cricket and made it to the game’s top tier, were not his only inspiration.

While watching Pakistan matches, he had seen their own celebrity superfan, Chacha Cricket, and spied a niche for himself.

“I started supporting the team by body painting in 2010, but I have been watching cricket since 2005, when I was eight years old,” Sediqi said.

“I got into cricket because I was impressed by MS Dhoni. Then I was watching Pakistan play, and I saw Chacha Cricket, and I thought, ‘I want to be like that’.

“From 2010 to now I have spent all my money, but I have to bring smiles to Afghan people’s faces.

“They watch me on TV and send me pictures. It makes them happy.”

He had hoped to find a sponsor, as Chacha Cricket often has done, although without any joy so far.

In the meantime, he has been funding his adventures via jobs in a Turkish restaurant, and as a mechanic.

He has been happy to do whatever it takes to try and bring a little cheer to his compatriots.

“Sometimes people think Afghan people are different, but they don’t know what is going on in Afghanistan,” he said.

“They need smiles, and that is what I try to bring.”

Updated: November 7th 2021, 3:56 AM