An Afghan girl exercises Ping Pong in Shiberghan, Jawzjan province, northern Afghanistan, Sept. 17, 2019. TO GO WITH "Feature: Table tennis becomes increasingly popular among girls in northern Afghanistan" (Photo by Mohammad Jan Aria/Xinhua)
by Abdul Haleem
SHIBERGHAN, Afghanistan, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- "I've been playing ping-pong (table tennis) since I was nine years old and I play every day as it's a popular sport among girls here in Jawzjan," said 17-year-old Afghan teenage girl Nargis Faiz.
Wearing sports gear and holding a paddle, Faiz told Xinhua that she has been playing ping-pong over the past eight years with a dream to earn the title of champion in table tennis.
Jawzjan province with Shiberghan as its capital 390 km north of Kabul has been regarded as a relatively troubled province as hardliner Taliban militants are operational in parts of the country.
However, the ambitious athlete has downplayed the security concerns, saying she has continued playing her favorite sport free of fear.
"I am enjoying the support of my family and my parents encourage me to continue playing ping-pong, therefore I have no concerns about the security problems and regularly attend practice at the venue in Shiberghan city to improve my skills," Faiz explained.
In conservative and patriarchal Afghanistan where many people especially in the countryside deeply believe in tribal traditions, it can be difficult for some girls to ignore the traditional customs and leave home to play sports.
Nevertheless, Faiz and some other like-minded girls have regularly left their homes to promote sport for women in the traditional society.
"Of course there are challenges, especially the security problems facing us, but we have to be brave and overcome all the obstacles and challenges," said Basira, a member of Afghanistan's ping-pong team.
"If we want to become a champion, we have to ignore all the threats," Basira added.
Basira, who has been practicing ping-pong over the past seven years and attended competitions in Jawzjan's provincial capital Shiberghan, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kabul and the western city of Herat, said happily that the number of girls joining ping-pong, football and fitness activities is constantly increasing in Shiberghan.
Afghan youngsters including girls have made tremendous achievements in sports over the past 18 years following the collapse of the Taliban's six-year reign in late 2001.
Afghan athletes have won medals at both regional and international competitions, including at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games.
"Currently, there are 33 females who are members of Jawzjan's provincial ping-pong team and the number of those wanting to join is rising," Mashal Hashimi, the head of the Ping-Pong Federation in Jawzjan province, told Xinhua.