International sport brings Afghans and Aussies closer
March 13, 2011
- Aca,!A"The sport, all over the world, is sort of the great equalizer,Aca,!A? said Australian Army Lt. Christian J. Johnston, Afghan mentor team leader for Combat Team B, 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.
MIRABAD VALLEY, Afghanistan - In the mountains of Afghanistan, a pickup game of soccer is played overlooking the valley below.
The teams are mixed - there is no distinction between Afghan and Australian - and for a brief period the warriors of Mirabad Valley are simple athletes under the golden sun.
"The sport, all over the world, is sort of the great equalizer," said Australian Army Lt. Christian J. Johnston, Afghan mentor team leader for Combat Team B, 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment. "It doesn't matter if you don't speak each others' language, everyone knows the language of soccer."
Every couple of days, the soldiers of Combat Team B get together with their Afghan National Army counterparts and play a quick game of soccer as a quick break from constant war efforts.
"There's no patrolling, there's no Taliban - it's just a good friendly game of soccer, where the boys can forget about what were actually doing out here for a little while," said Johnston, an Adelaide, South Australia, native. "They can forget about IEDs [improvised explosive devises] and being shot at, and Afghans and Australians alike just get in there and have a good time together."
Even though the game is an international sport, the rules are just a bit different in the bush of Afghanistan, said Australian Army Pvt. Christopher W. Cook, infantryman for Combat Team B, 5th Bn., RAR.
The field is a small rectangle marked off by rocks. Penalty kicks are performed backwards, there are no goalies and players can roam anywhere on the field they please.
"They sort of make up their own rules," said Cook, describing the ANA's unorthodox playing style. "But I had fun, it's good just kicking the ball around."
Cook, who played soccer as a young boy in Claundra, Queensland, said he never expected to play in the middle of Afghanistan, especially not on the side of a cliff.
Whenever the ball was kicked too far, it would roll down the mountain into a small stream. The unfortunate player who kicked the ball could be seen chasing it through the valley, attempting to catch it before it tumbled into an unsecure area.
Johnston said despite unusual rules and cliff side adventures, the soldiers from Combat Team B always have a fun time.
"It's a different experience," said Cook. "I don't think I'll ever play soccer like that again. It's something I'll always remember."