U.S., Afghan Officials Forge Olympic Partnership
By Erika Stetson
U.S. Forces Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 15, 2011 An expansion of youth sports programs nationwide and the potential for future training opportunities for Afghan athletes and coaches are among the benefits of a developing partnership between the national Olympic committees of the United States and Afghanistan, and other U.S. sports associations, officials said.
Navy Rear Adm. Harold “Hal” Pittman and Lt. Gen. Muhammad Zahir Aghbar, president of the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee, announce the U.S.-Afghan Olympic sports initiative at a news conference in the Ghazi National Olympic Complex in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 14, 2011. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The partnership, announced during a news conference at the Ghazi National Olympic Complex yesterday, was facilitated by a military sports diplomacy program led by the International Security Assistance Force and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The public diplomacy department at the embassy funded the effort, which was facilitated by the Amateur Athletic Union in the United States.
“This program is about the future of Afghanistan. We seek to capitalize on the increased security in Afghanistan to expand youth sports in-theater,” said Navy Rear Adm. Harold “Hal” Pittman, a senior ISAF communications official who participated in the news conference with Lt. Gen. Muhammad Zahir Aghbar, Afghanistan National Olympic Committee president.
The two men had just returned from a trip to America. They traveled with Afghan sports officials and Afghan Deputy Youth Affairs Minister Taimoor Eshaqzai as a delegation that Pittman described as “the first of its kind to travel to America from Afghanistan.”
Aghbar said officials from Afghanistan were able to gain information about the types of athletic fields to develop and invest in, as well as cementing a potential Olympic partnership between the two nations.
“The president of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the president of the U.S Paralympic Committee want to help the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee,” Aghbar said. “Now it is up to ANOC’s capability to help the U.S Olympic Committee and Paralympics committee help ANOC.”
He added that Pittman would assist the ANOC plan for youth sports development and work with U.S. sponsoring organizations to provide coaching and sports mentorship assistance.
The AAU is among organizations planning an almost immediate follow-on trip to Afghanistan to assist community-based youth sports.
The delegation visited about a dozen U.S. athletic sites, including the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.; the University of Central Florida’s athletic facilities in Kissimmee; the largest YMCA in central Florida; the IMG Academies sports training facility in Bradenton, Fla.; and Miami-Dade County Recreation Department facilities.
“Our goal was to orient Afghan leaders to the type of youth sports available in the U.S., as well as establish potential partnerships with sports organizations that have the capacity to help them,” Pittman said.
Aghbar said the two Olympic Committees are working closely on agreements that eventually may send Afghan athletes to America for training, and could bring U.S. Olympic coaches to
“Afghanistan will be the 86th country to have athletes trained in this school,” Aghbar said of IMG Academies, an organization that claims numerous professional athletes in multiple sports as alumni. “This is a huge achievement.”
Pittman said Aghbar and his staff will work with the deputy youth minister and ISAF officials to identify the Afghan priorities for assistance to youth sports programs nationwide. That assistance likely would start in a few Afghan cities, he added, and then would spread to smaller communities, stressing that the effort is intended to be nationwide and serve all Afghans.
“We’re developing the strategy now,” Pittman said. “It’s not yet fully developed, but it will be designed to connect Afghan youth with sports facilities in the different provinces.”
The announcement, he added, may cover a number of sports efforts. “We’re looking to partner with several different organizations,” Pittman said.
With the ISAF sports strategy now beginning to take hold, Aghbar stressed that cooperating with ISAF on athletic programs is a “strategic partnership.”
Pittman added that discussions regarding partnership had gone on for some time, but that the relationship is entering a new phase.
“Now it’s time for the real work to begin in developing community-based youth sports programs,” he said. “This will take time, and we have to crawl before we can walk [and] before we can run. But the intent is there to do good things for the youth, and for the future of Afghanistan.”