About the Author: Robert Sauers serves at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A large crowd of cricket enthusiasts watched today as Finance Minister Mohammad Omer Zakhiwal and United States Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry laid foundation stones to inaugurate the renovation of the Kabul National Cricket Stadium.
Because of the national team's exceptional success in many international tournaments, cricket in Afghanistan is gaining popularity. The growing number of players includes not only men, but women as well. More than 100 young women are currently playing cricket in Kabul and the Afghanistan Cricket Board is about to create a National Women's Cricket Team for the 2011 Asian Elite Cup Tournament in February 2011.
"Cricket in Afghanistan is more than a game. It is a means for bringing Afghan youth from different backgrounds together. It has become a source of pride for ordinary Afghans and an example of their resolve and determination. It is a game that can contribute positively to peace and stability in our country. That is why, today, we are so very grateful to USAID in supporting the construction of the Kabul National Cricket Stadium," said Minister Zakhiwal. Minister Zakhiwal is also the Chairman of the Afghan Cricket Board.
With an estimated completion in July 2011, the renovation will include a new boundary wall, pitch, sprinkler system, and seating. The renovated stadium will serve as the main hub for hosting both domestic and international events and will accommodate more than 6,000 cricket fans. Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project will employ labor-intensive construction methods to provide short-term employment for unemployed Afghans.
"I am honored and proud to be part of this project that will rehabilitate this cricket stadium and provide a safe venue in which Afghan youth and the Afghan National Team can play for years to come," said Ambassador Eikenberry. "I am looking forward to working together on future projects that enhance the lives of Afghanistan's young people through sport."
This project is an excellent opportunity for the governments of Afghanistan and the United States to work closely together to meet the needs of Afghans, especially youth. This project will be implemented under USAID's Community Development Program (CDP) with additional support from the Local Governance and Community Development (LGCD) project. These USAID projects are designed to assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to extend its reach into unstable areas, engage at-risk populations, create an environment that encourages local communities to take an active role in their own stability and development, and address the underlying causes of instability.
You can find photographs of the event here.