Not for the faint-hearted, Taliban embrace buzkashi in new Afghanistan

A Kunduz rider, plaster over his broken nose, joins the fray against Kandahar in Afghanistan’s buzkashi grand final in Kabul

The announcer roared over the public address system as a lone rider separated from a melee of horses and galloped towards a chalk circle drawn in the middle of a muddy field in the Afghan capital.

Despite being pursued by what appeared to be a cavalry charge, the rider dumped his “prize” in the circle and raised an arm in triumph.

Banned as “immoral” when the Taliban first ruled from 1996 to 2001, the hardline Islamists have embraced buzkashi since returning to power in August, and the winning team hails from their heartland despite it having no real tradition of the sport.

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“Today, luckily, buzkashi is not only being played all over Afghanistan, but the government, the Islamic Emirate, is organising this competition.”

Two teams with six horsemen a side fight for possession of, traditionally, a beheaded animal carcass — buzkashi means “dragging the goat” in Persian — with the aim of dropping it into the “circle of truth”.

It has been played for centuries in Central Asia, with slight variations from country to country.

Horses and riders can be substituted from 12 on each side — a necessity as injuries are common, although most riders shrug them off after brief treatment.

Sometimes a horse and rider fall, and on Sunday a member of the Kunduz team broke his nose, but the powerfully built 50-year-old soon returned to the fray.

This time, the contest took place under tight Taliban security, six months after the fundamentalist Islamists returned to power.

The sport has become commercialised too.

Since returning to power the Taliban have promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first government, when they banned most sports — including football because it showed men’s legs.

For the record, Kandahar won 2-0, with the winning team carrying off a handsome trophy presented by a senior Taliban official.

“There was nothing difficult for us,” the 32-year-old told AFP.

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