News for January 9, 1997

Taleban organise bicycle race, sports display

The purist Islamic Taleban organised a bicycle race and display of martial arts in Kabul on Tuesday to show their support for sports and sportsmen.

``The race was organised to enlighten people's minds; to show them that the Taleban are not against sports,'' Mohammad Ehsan Motmayn, the Taleban-appointed general secretary of the Afghan Olympic committee, said on Tuesday.

Fourteen cyclists participated in the five km (three mile) race between Kabul's airport and the Ariana Hotel, close to where the body of Afghanistan's last communist president was hung after he was killed when the Taleban took over Kabul in late September last year.

Most of the cycles were Soviet-built and their dual use was betrayed by the number of them with carrying racks mounted over the back wheels.

The starting line was in front of a tank that guards the approach to the airport. With an escort of traffic policemen riding motorcycles and sidecars, the cyclists set off down the cracked tarmac towards the finish line.

The policemen cleared the route of carts and pedestrians as the cyclists swung through a roundabout and on to the final stretch.

With a cry of ``Allah-u-Akbar'' (God is great) Amanullah, Afghanistan's premier cyclist and an employee of the Ministry of National Security, won the race, and with it a battered nickel-plated cup. A citation written in felt-tipped pen on cardboard was taped to the base of the trophy.

Almost all Kabul's sports facilities have been looted and destroyed in the fighting.

Amanullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, said that during the almost five years of war that has ravaged Kabul, the team had trained indoors on stationary bicycles.

``We need everything; cycles, clothes, shoes, everything,'' said Amanullah after his victory.

``My message to the outside world is that they should invite us to take part in international races, and help us with equipment,'' he said.

After the race there was a demonstration of wrestling, boxing and martial arts in the assembly hall of the disused Istiqlal High School.

Every window has been broken in the fighting, and the young athletes sat cross-legged on the hall's marble floor before displaying their skills.

``Normally we would do this on mats, but we do not have any, so they can only show the technical moves,'' said Motmayn.