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Old 02-14-2011, 05:23 AM
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Default Premier League’s Craddock lauds Afghan youth soccer

Premier League’s Craddock lauds Afghan youth soccer

02-14-2011 04:24 AM

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Mon, 2011-02-14 12:16

Premier League’s Craddock lauds Afghan youth soccer

An Italian soldier assigned to FOB Lavaredo plays soccer with a young Afghan boy during a visit to a local village in Bakwa district, Farah province on Feb. 6, 2011. Specialist 1st Class Stephen Hickok, U.S. Navy

Premier League’s Craddock lauds Afghan youth soccer

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
Regional Command-West Public Affairs
HERAT, Afghanistan– Narrowing insurgents’ angles one pitch at a time, Afghan youth soccer players slide tackle the hand they’re dealt in life, with dreams for a country that one day may host the FIFA World Cup.
Realistically, that dream could be decades away, but with the help of coalition forces and U.S. Agency for International Development, many new soccer (football) pitches have been erected in western Afghanistan.
“Afghan youth and their needs sometimes get overlooked when this war-torn country prioritizes development initiatives, which could possible lead the affected youth towards insurgency, criminal activity or drug abuse,” said Behzad Roohi, USAID advisor, who oversaw the $85,000 construction of a new football pitch in Khajeh Naw Village, Shindand District, Herat Province.
Now, local youth in Khajeh Naw are often seen wearing cleats and uniforms, and kicking actual soccer balls, all as a result of coalition efforts and USAID funds.
England’s Premier League professional footballer Jody Craddock, Wolverhampton Wanderers defender, believes that if a child focuses on the positive and more-enjoyable things in life, they're better suited to push through the chaos around them and have a better chance at a successful adult life.
“I can only imagine what it must be like for youngsters struggling to find ways of filling their leisure time in a country like Afghanistan,” said Craddock, who finished his 2009/2010 Wolves campaign as the second top scorer with five goals and 36 appearances.
Craddock has more than 500 professional appearances and said, “To have the competitiveness, the fun, the fitness aspects and the enjoyment that football in the form of soccer youth programs can only help [Afghans] through what must be a very difficult stage out there.”
Anticipation is an overarching theme revolving around Afghan youth sports.
Provincial youth and sports leaders were present at Khajeh Naw Village’s field inauguration, which Roohi described as, “an atmosphere of hope, optimism, and pride.”
Roohi wishes that pride will manifest itself in many of Afghanistan’s youth.
“This gives fighting-age men a viable avenue to express themselves and have a sense of belonging,” said Roohi. “The long-term effect is to develop team sports, which instills community, team work, leadership, problem solving and conflict resolution.”
Though these attributes need to be fostered in Afghan youth, they’re not qualities specific only to children in this war-torn land.
“Even in England I feel that sports, especially football, can offer a route away from potential trouble that youngsters might otherwise get involved in,” said Craddock. “We have good facilities in this country but sometimes even that is not enough to alleviate the boredom that some of these youngsters feel, and that sometimes leads to them straying into the wrong circles.”
Thinking about the situation here, Craddock empathizes with Afghan youth.
“In less fortunate societies the problem can only be intensified because the facilities we can use [in England] are probably not available to them,” he said.
Though the facilities in Afghanistan are far inferior to those in England, efforts are underway to erect more sports fields in more areas.
“[i] wish that those behind the schemes in under-privileged countries [have] every success in their efforts to promote the game of football to the benefit of youngsters,” said Craddock.
Khajeh Naw Village’s new soccer pitch serves about 150,000 Afghan youths, gives them hope and leads them toward a life of dignity, with a sense of belonging, said Roohi.
Though soccer is one avenue, USAID is looking into other sport venues, said Roohi.
USAID is working with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to combat the possible downfall of future generations of Afghans by erecting new soccer fields and volleyball courts, he said.
Private donors linked with troops in Regional Command-West are contributing in these development projects. At least two soccer fields could be constructed in the vicinity of Herat City.
For the coalition, security must be obtained and sustained, and then progress can follow. In this process, development must continue to support the nation’s youth, who will one day either support or oppose their government.
During his visit to the RC-West headquarters in Herat, Mark Sedwill, the former British ambassador to Afghanistan and NATO’s senior civilian representative here said, “As we gradually bring security to a district, it must be a step-by-step process. Once security is complete, development can follow.”
Coalition forces, teamed with Afghan National Security Forces, continue to enhance security in this region, said Italian army Brig. Gen. Marcello Bellacicco, RC-West commander. The soccer field in Khajeh Naw Village is one example of what can be accomplished in this country when the people support their government and oppose the insurgency.

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