The Words of the Anderson Family

Working for Peace through Sports in Afghanistan

Mark Anderson
July 8, 2007

Sayed Dashti is Vice President of the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee. His job is to find and train athletes who can compete on the world level in 2008 in Beijing China at the Olympic Games. A few years ago, he spent a week walking through the countryside and sleeping on the ground at night due to the war between the Taliban and their opposition. Now he is a man on a mission to build a culture of peace through sports in a country still racked by violence.

Sitting at a table at the 4th International Peace Sports Festival (IPSF) in Asan Korea, Mr. Dashti describes the journey that led him to be heading a small delegation of Afghani athletes to a sports festival in Korea where athletes from 67 nations compete in a variety of sports. The IPSF has been growing in popularity and prestige for years as athletes from 11 different religions gather in a spirit of friendship and engage in cultural exchange and interfaith dialogues.

Mr. Dashti explained that in 1997 Afghanistan had a provisional government headquartered in the northern part of the country due to the presence of the Taliban in charge in Kabul, the capital city. At that time, he started the Sport committee which oversaw the activities of 460 athletes. In 2000, the number of athletes had increased to 5,000 due to the expansion of the area that was free from the control of the Taliban. In 2001, the United States and mujihadeen forces removed the Taliban from power and he was able to re-activate the Sport Committee in every province.

Interestingly, there was a 38 day period where there was no government in Afghanistan. The leaders had gathered in Bonn, Germany to devise a government and plan for the future of the country. Upon their return, a former mujihadeen commander was installed as president of the Physical Education and Sport committee and Mr. Dashti was selected to be Vice-president. He was badly needed as he had built and maintained the sports foundation throughout Afghanistan throughout all the years of the war.

Several years ago, Dashti was contacted by Mr. Humberto Angelucci, the representative of the Universal Peace Federation to Afghanistan, the sponsoring entity for IPSF. He was asked to consider sending some athletes to the IPSF. Dashti responded and the athletes reported very positive experiences upon their return. This year, Mr. Dashti himself came to Korea to experience the festival and observe his athletes in the competitions.

Expressing his reaction to IPSF, Dashti explained, "The IPSF is unique. It allows young athletes to make friendships with athletes from other nations and religions. It provides opportunities in non-threatening environments to learn about the cultures and faiths of the world." In addition, he indicated that as Muslims, they want to accept and respect all the religions of the world in order to be good neighbors.

Believing in the power of sports and friendship, Mr. Dashti plans to continue his dedicated efforts to empower the leaders of tomorrow's Afghanistan by providing them rich experiences of international competition and intercultural exchange.

Not even war or politics can stop him from his mission. He is building peace, one athlete at a time.

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