The Afghan taekwondo master Rohullah Nikpah won his second consecutive bronze medal at the Olympics. The country's six athletes received a warm welcome home on Tuesday from cheering crowds.
Crowds went wild in Kabul's Ghazi Stadium. Where once the Taliban used to carry out public executions, people cheered and waved flags to welcome home the country's six athletes who participated in the 2012 London Olympics. They cheered loudest for Rohullah Nikpah, winner of the bronze medal in taekwondo.
"The best part for me is not the medal itself but the peace, unity and fraternity it has created among my fellow countrymen," Nikpah said after returning home.
Hundreds of people went to the stadium, especially children and young adults, to celebrate Rohullah Nikpah and the medal he brought back for Afghanistan. One group of about 50 boys dressed in taekwondo uniforms stood in the staduim holding placards and portraits of the athletes and of national symbols of Afghanistan.
One of the boys named Majed said, "I want to win a medal, too, and go abroad and represent my country in competition. It makes me so happy to see Afghanistan getting positive attention."
Conidering the daily news, which is full of reports of attacks and killings, Nikpah's bronze medal is like balm for the soul of Afghanistan.
The enthusiasm for the games was quite novelty this year. People throughout the entire country celebrated when they saw the taekwondo champion holding the Afghan flag in London. This year, posters and placards with the athletes' pictures printed on them were hung up all over the country, contrary to the last Olympic Games, explained Afghan sports journalist Musadeq Parsa.
"The Beijing Olympics took place in 2008 without hardly anyone in Afghanistan noticing. No one expected Nikpah to win a medal. So this time, the suspence was all the greater - the people watched with great interest and showed their support for him."
Unity through patriotism
He said it was apparent that the Afghan people's enthusiasm for this year's Olympic games and for their country's athletes brought them closer together.
"One could say that the ethnic conflicts decreased by 90 percent during the games. The athletes received equal support from the Afghan people - no matter where in Afghanistan they were from or which ethnic group they belonged to. During the games there were no ethnic differences - there was just Afghanistan."
Speaking for this is the fact that Rohullah Nikpah is an ethnic Hazara - a group of people which usually faces discrimination. While it was good that the London Games were helping Afghans to forget their prejudices, Parsa said the government was not doing enough to invest in the country's sports infrastructure.
"Getting kids interested in sports is the government's responsibility. They don't allocate extra money for the training of competitive athletes. Foreign aid donors have also not given enough support for this important part of society."
But at least Afghanistan is preparing to introduce a football league based on the European model. Medal winner Nikpah is sure that sports will play a pivitol role in the peace process of his country.
"I wanted the people of Afghanistan to be happy with my performance and to come together and enjoy the games. God willing, this kind of patriotism will grow day by day."
Author: Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams