U.S., Afghan Officials Forge Olympic Partnership

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.

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.

“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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)