A Short Story of Atlas Football Club
Imagine having an eight-year-old daughter who is mad crazy about football and has inherited your own unflinching persistence in getting what she wants? She will play football in a team no matter what. Now that sounds easy in any other part of the world but in Afghanistan, it’s not as easy to find a girls’ football club.
Like any other dad, determined to win the least amount of affection from a rebellious and over intelligent eight-year-old daughter, I began looking up football teams and clubs in town. The result was clear: I had to disappoint my little girl, for there were no such clubs available. After a while, I had an epiphany! What if I started my own club? A club for kids the age of my girl that offered safety, security, and a good standard of football. The journey was nothing like I had imagined. It is a long walk filled with missteps, potholes, and trial by fire to learn to manage a football club in a city like Kabul. It took me six months to just process the paperwork required to purchase the club rights and change the name to one that stood out: Atlas Football Club.
I must say, I have been a fan of football for decades, but the moment I signed the paperwork at the Afghanistan Football Federation, it was when I realized that unknowingly I might have changed the course of my life. For the first time in my life with many years of experience working for all sorts of companies, NGOs, agencies and government, I had suddenly found my calling in life. I had suddenly realized that waking up early in the morning to work for Atlas or sleeping late at 3 a.m. weren’t making me tired at all, but rather I had more energy than ever before. Like the old saying goes “it is not work if you love doing it.” The club looked promising after I established it. From a team of girls sporadically playing football whenever there was a tournament, the team turned into a proper set-up with different age groups and teams of boys and girls that met the requirements of a proper football club anywhere in the world. The club has its own academy to discover, develop, and deliver further footballing talents.
“Since the very first day that I stepped into this I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, and it hasn’t disappointed. A rollercoaster of emotions, delights, heartbreaks, loyalty and discovery hasn’t been short of a miracle at times.“
As it stands, the club currently has a roster of 275 players of both girls and boys across its teams. Their ages range from 6 to 24 years old. It is safe to say that playing football has not only improved their skills on the ball but also developed their self-confidence, social skills and ability to think critically through Atlas’ theoretical and practical development programs; all this in a period of 20 months, employing 12 coaches. Atlas has over 21 national team players of girls and boys from different age groups in its ranks and boasts an impressive 2 championships in the last four tournaments held since January 2017, finishing 2nd and 3rd in the remaining two. Looking at Atlas from a business perspective, I came to a few realizations that were nothing short of startling; the football industry in Afghanistan remains mostly untapped and uncharted. Considering the ever-rising popularity of football, and the business that comes with it, around the world, it presents great potential that is surprisingly overlooked by investors and business personalities in Afghanistan.
It’s Afghanistan and obviously professionally managing a club is not an easy task. The chaotic situation football clubs at a national level, total apathy of the private sector in sponsoring clubs, and corruption in different agencies have made club management an impossible endeavor for many. Despite the challenges, I still believe football in Afghanistan is a lucrative business to be involved in. Commercializing sports and in particular, football remains a Herculean Labor, in the words of William Arthur Ward, “if you can dream it you can achieve it.” That is the belief that drives me everyday to push forward with the almost impossible dream.
You might ask yourself why would someone step into such a venture that at best to succeed will take years at least? The answer is easy and simple; imagine a little boy who is socially awkward and gets to make friends and play football? Imagine a young girl, who can’t afford higher education but gets to play the sport she loves and also get free education at a reputable university? Imagine a parent who comes to watch their son or daughter score a goal and then shows the humbleness and intelligence that is a characteristic of a footballer? Imagine children who find inspiration with the ball at their feet? Color me an idealist but I believe that sports have the power to change our destinies. I do believe that.
Since the very first day that I stepped into this I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, and it hasn’t disappointed. A rollercoaster of emotions, delights, heartbreaks, loyalty and discovery hasn’t been short of a miracle at times. The inspiration that came from my eight-year-old daughter, Ghazal is still guiding me toward a goal which – at times seeming impossible – is going to define all of us in the years to come.