People will often think of Afghanistan as a place of instability, conflict, or poverty. But it is also a country with a long history, great beauty, and incredible generosity. Too often we only hear one side of the story, and it’s important to try to locate and create positive stories, a sense of pride, and a way for people to enjoy themselves together.
The power of sport
Sport can provide all those things.
Quoting from recent work around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
- Sports is a cost-effective and powerful tool for promoting important human values such as respect for rules and for others, teamwork, discipline, diversity, hospitality and empathy. By leveraging its social cohesion capabilities, sports can be used to instill these values into young people and curb youth restiveness. This is so because people often set aside religious, tribal or ethnic differences for the love of the game.
- In addition to numerous social benefits, sports instill healthy lifestyle choices among children and youth by helping them remain active and combat non-communicable diseases.
- The role of sports in promoting gender equality is also critical. Sports helps girls and women build self-esteem and develop skills needed to become equal participants and leaders in their various communities.
And we would argue that running, with low barriers to entry in terms of equipment and facilities, is possibly the best placed sport of all when it comes to making a difference.
From the beginning it has been very important that the event should be open to all who wish to participate. There are limits on capacity but otherwise we are determined to ensure that all races are as inclusive as possible, that women and girls are welcomed as well as men and boys, and that we try to bring together people from different regions and ethnic groups within Afghanistan, as well as those from other countries.
The marathon works closely with Free to Run and other organisations who are working to ensure opportunities exist for female athletes and role models, in sport and other activities.
As UNESCO put it in 1978, sport should be ‘a fundamental right for all’.
Participant numbers have grown strongly and rose again in 2019 with the inclusion of the Mini-Marathon. Each year has seen at least 40% of runners being female, and they have come from more than a dozen different Afghan provinces as well as a wide range of international countries.