Two do-rah teams battle it out during a goodwill tournament of the traditional Afghan sport in the Deh Rawood district of Oruzgan province, Afghanistan, Feb. 20. The games were hosted by coalition and Afghan forces.
KABUL, Afghanistan (March 3, 2009) – As U.S. forces and their NATO counterparts here were thinking recently about ways to win the trust and cooperation of local people in their fight against radical insurgents, village elders suggested a way to come together in common interest: a sporting event.
Such was the start of the Feb. 20 “do-rah” games in the Deh Rawood district of Afghanistan’s Oruzgan province. For some, it was the chance to see a familiar game played against other villagers. For others, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to watch a sport rarely seen by foreigners. For everyone involved, it was the opportunity to bring communities together in a way only a sports tournament can.
With security greatly improved in what had been one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, some 1,500 people participated in or came out to watch the five-hour event, hosted by coalition civil affairs soldiers in partnership with Afghan soldiers and police.
"The genesis for the idea was rooted in multiple interviews with the elders in the Deh Rawood area," a civil affairs team leader said. "All the elders indicated that they thought it would be a great idea to have an athletic competition."
Everyone joined together to make the tribal elders’ idea a reality. Civil affairs coordinated the setup of the games and provided funding for prizes and refreshments. Villagers created the field and Afghan forces provided security.
The request for participants went out across the district and people were excited to take part, Deh Rawood Police Chief Omar Kahn Ankalm said.
"Four teams from different villages took part in today’s tournament," Ankalm said. "The people are having a good time. They are happy to be playing."
The villages of Lundyanah, Mian-do and Lublan, as well as people from the Deh Rawood bazaar, had teams that participated in the tournament. The games provided a means for the people to demonstrate their abilities as well as provide a reason to bring a village together, Ankalm said.
"Do-rah is a sport that is unique to the area, and I thought nothing would showcase the pride and competitive nature of the people more than a do-rah tournament," the civil affairs team leader said. "At first, the game was confusing. But after the rules were explained, the games were very interesting to watch."
The game is played inside of a large ring which acts as the out-of-bounds. In the center of the ring is a second ring, where the action happens.
"There are two groups playing – one inside the middle ring and one outside the middle ring," Saed Asman Sadad, the district chief for Deh Rawood explained. "The goal is to hit the legs of the other team. If your group is hit too many times, you lose."
There are four people on each team. The team outside the middle ring tries to tag the legs of the other team with their “fotho,” a large, Afghan body scarf, Sadad said. The other group tries to kick the fotho-wielding group below the waist when they step inside the middle ring. If they are successful, then the teams change positions. The fotho-wielding group remains in their position, regardless of how many times they score hits, until one of them gets kicked.
The game is refereed by two judges who determine if the kicks and whips count. They award points subjectively. The most aggressive team receives the most points. Judges stop the game once they feel one team has had enough.
“Enough” came after five hours when the Deh Rawood bazaar team took first place, the Mian-do team took second, and the Lundyanah team finished third. The three teams took home trophies, and the players from each of the teams took home medals.
With the successful turnout and enthusiasm, coalition and Afghan forces are considering more community events, the civil affairs team leader said. He also said the games would not have been as successful if it were not for the support of the government representatives in the district.
"A significant reason the event was so successful is because of the cooperation and enthusiasm that the district chief and [Afghan National Police] chief of police had for the event," the civil affairs team leader said. "They both addressed the crowd prior to the games. Due to their efforts and the effectiveness they have had in the area, the games went off without any problems."