Despite ‘having no beach in our country’ Afghanistan beach volleyball made waves at Asian Games

'I came to Incheon with a goal to win all matches but we lost all three,' says Afghan beach volleyball player Mohammad Zaker, 'but I am happy'.

Afghanistan's Pardes Safi, left, and Mohammad Zaker, right, play a return during one of their preliminary matches in beach volleyball at the Asian Games. Olivia Harris / Reuters / September 24, 2014
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Afghanistan’s beach volleyball teams have missed out on the reward of a new car after finishing out of the medals at the Asian Games, but they are happy with the experience, media exposure and ill-fitting sunglasses they found in South Korea.

While a loss to Indonesia confirmed their exit from the tournament on Wednesday, Sayed Nematullah Mushtaq, the coach and director of beach volleyball at the Afghanistan National Volleyball Federation, said the competition helped the sport grow back home.

Afghanistan debuted in beach volleyball at the Guangzhou Games in 2010 and while they were happy to compete in Incheon the facilities at home were holding them back, Mushtaq said.

“Unfortunately we do not have many good training facilities in Kabul,” he told Reuters. “Not a beach court like this,” he added, pointing to the Songdo Global University venue.

“We have only one beach court in Kabul but the sand quality is not as good as here.

“The sand in our beach volleyball court comes from desert and also from rivers. That is why having no beach in our country is a problem.”

Sport is beginning to flourish again in war-torn Afghanistan.

The football team won the South Asian Football Federation Championship last year and are hoping of a place at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, while the cricket team will make their 50-over World Cup debut next year in Australia and New Zealand.

A total of 117 coaches and athletes from 12 sports came for the Games, flying from Kabul to New Delhi to Singapore and then to Incheon.

There were two men’s teams competing in the competition but Mushtaq said they had not intentionally excluded women from beach volleyball.

“There are no women players in my country, not because the government bans them from playing but their family does not allow them,” he said.

“The Afghan government, with a newly elected president, will encourage more women to play beach volleyball.”

Mushtaq added that they had received support, and motivation, from the government.

“The government paid for our airplane tickets, food and $400 (Dh1,469) per person for the Incheon Asian Games. The director of our Olympic Committee promised to give each athlete ... a modern car if he or she wins a medal in Incheon.”

“Modern, Modern,” emphasised a boxing coach standing nearby.

While player Mohammad Zaker missed out on a medal – and a car – he said the trip to South Korea was worthwhile.

“I couldn’t buy these back in my country so I bought them here,” he told Reuters, proudly showing off a pair of sunglasses which he said cost him $4.

“They don’t really fit me but I still managed to finish the Games wearing them,” he added with a wide smile.

“I came to Incheon with a goal to win all matches in the tournament but we lost all three. But I am happy because I am now being interviewed by a foreign media although we won nothing.

“Isn’t it great?”

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