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News and Views

President Karzai and Four Afghan Athletes Attend Olympic Games

Afghan President Hamid Karzai attended the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, joining the four Afghan athletes proudly participating in the games. The lavish opening ceremonies featured 100 world leaders and athletes from 205 countries and territories who will participate in 302 events in 28 sports.

This year, Afghanistan's team will participate in taekwondo and the 100-meter sprint. Rohullah Nikpah and Nesar Ahmad Bahawi will participate in taekwondo; Masood Azizi, who ran in the 2004 games, will again take part in the 100-meter sprint; and Robina Muqimyar, the only woman on the team, will also race the 100-meter sprint. The participation of the Afghan athletes in this year's games is another example of the succesful strides the country has made since 2001.

The team's best hopes for a medal are in the taekwondo competition, a sport that has fast gained popularity in Afghanistan in recent years. Ghulam Rabani Rabani, the president of the Afghan Taekwondo Federation, has noted that there are over 700 clubs throughout the country with over 25,000 members. The taekwondo competition begins on Wednesday, August 20, with medal fights in different weight classes on Thursday, August 21, Friday, August 22 and Saturday, August 23. (Click here to view the full schedule.)

Afghanistan has appeared in 11 Olympic Games, starting with the 1936 games in Berlin, Germany. The country fielded teams for each of the subsequent games until 1992, when infighting prevented Afghanistan from being represented in Barcelona, Spain. Two athletes participated in the 1996 games in Atlanta, U.S., while in 1999 the International Olympic Committee suspended Afghanistan from competition due to the Taliban's prohibition on female participation in sport. That ban was lifted by the International Olympic Committee after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and in 2004 five Afghans participated in the games in Athens, Greece. That year, Afghanistan's first female athletes competed, Robina Muqim Yaar in athletics and Friba Rayayee in judo. Afghanistan's best finish was fifth place by Mohammed Ebrahimi in 1964 featherweight freestyle wrestling.

The four athletes represent hope and achievement for Afghanistan. Though the country faces a number of challenges in security and development, many positive advances have been made in recent years. Among those is the freedom to participate in sports and represent the country in an event of global significance and brotherhood.

During the first day of his visit to China for the Olympic Games, President Karzai met with Chinese President Hu Jintao. During the meeting both presidents briefly discussed the elaborate preparations for the Olympics in Beijing as well as the ongoing international effort in Afghanistan's rebuilding effort. During the meeting, President Hu Jintao expressed his country’s support for Afghanistan by stating, "China and Afghanistan enjoy a traditional friendship and sound relations. We're willing to support within our capability."

Related News: Afghanistan Pins its Medal Hopes on Taekwondo (AFP)

                      Against All Odds, Afghans Try Their Luck in Beijing (Reuters)

                      Afghan Taekwondo Champ Aims for Olympic Glory (NPR)

                      Photo Gallery: Afghan Olympians Train for Beijing (Zimbio)

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