Taekwondo: Martial arts for peace in Afghanistan

Updated 21 May 2012
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Taekwondo: Martial arts for peace in Afghanistan

The Taekwondo star who became Afghanistan’s first ever Olympic medalist at the Beijing Games in 2008 wants to repeat the feat in London — in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.
Rohullah Nikpa’s story is something of a fairytale in a war-ravaged country with few happy endings. As a 10-year-old obsessed with Bruce Lee and martial arts movies, he followed his brother to the taekwondo club while civil war raged in Afghanistan.
“I was crazy about taekwondo from the day I started it. I remember the first day I arrived at the club to practise, I was already able to do it well. I already had the mentality of being determined to reach the top,” he said.
Now 25, he was 14 when the Taleban regime fell at the end of 2001 and began training in Kabul in earnest while a bloody insurgency against the government and its NATO allies raged throughout the country.
Nikpa overcame tremendous problems, not least financial, to qualify for Beijing, where he claimed a life-changing bronze in the under-58 kilogram division. Four years later, the moment is still fresh in his memory.
“I was so happy because throughout the history of my country Afghanistan, no one has ever won an Olympic medal before. I was so happy that I cried right there in the arena,” he said.
“It’s something priceless for our country. With this medal, I can help bring peace to our country. It shows that our people must walk away from all this war and conflict, and look toward the future generation and use sports to help lift our country up.” His friend and training partner Nesar Ahmad Bahawi — Afghanistan’s other great taekwondo hope in London — shares his view of sport as a means of inspiring change in society.
“Taekwondo I’ve done for my country and my people, not so that I could myself become famous, just so that I can let the world hear the name of Afghanistan in a good way and make our people happy,” said Bahawi, who took silver at the 2007 world championships but came away from Beijing empty-handed.
“There’s always been fighting in our country, I want to show the world that we are not people who love war, but we want peace.” Bashir Taraki, the Afghan team’s coach, agrees.
“The Olympic logo with its five rings shows that the world is unified. Yes, so the sport of taekwondo can show the world that we asking for peace and we don’t want war, we want to live as one with the rest of the world,” he said.
Thanks to Nikpa and Bahawi, taekwondo has become one of the most popular sports in Afghanistan. Around 25,000 competitors — up to 38,000 according to Bahawi — practise in hundreds of clubs around the country, though facilities are sometimes basic.
The elite Afghan squad, paid around $15 a month, train in proper facilities at the Ghazi Olympic stadium in Kabul, where the Taleban used to hold public stonings — a marked improvement on the fourth floor building site where they prepared for Beijing.
But Nikpa and Bahawi don’t care about the training setup — they are dreaming of Olympic gold. And once they have the medals round their necks? “I will continue taekwondo as long as I can, and when I’m no longer strong enough to do it myself, I will use the experience I have to teach our youth so that they can grow up to be even better at taekwondo than me and win more medals for Afghanistan,” said Nikpa.


Napoleon fever confirmed as hat sells for €350,000

Updated 18 June 2018
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Napoleon fever confirmed as hat sells for €350,000

  • The final price far exceeded the expected €30,000 to €40,000 for the distinctive “bicorne” hat, which Napoleon wore sideways — rather than with points at the front and back — so he could easily be spotted on the battlefield.
  • Auctioneer Etienne De Baecque: “There’s a sort of craze going on with historical souvenirs, in particular those from Napoleon.”

LYON: A two-cornered military dress hat thought to have belonged to Napoleon went for €350,000 ($406,000) at auction on Monday, the latest sale to highlight the boundless appetite for all things associated with the emperor.
The final price far exceeded the expected €30,000 to €40,000 for the distinctive “bicorne” hat, which Napoleon wore sideways — rather than with points at the front and back — so he could easily be spotted on the battlefield.
The identify of the buyer was not disclosed.
“There’s a sort of craze going on with historical souvenirs, in particular those from Napoleon,” Etienne De Baecque, the auctioneer leading the sale in the eastern city of Lyon, told AFP.
Yet despite details that suggest the hat is one of about 120 the “Little Corsican” went through during his 15 years in power, there is no conclusive proof it belonged to him.
Most of them were made by the French hatmakers Poupard in black felted beaver fur, though only a handful of confirmed examples still exist.
“There are some distinctive elements: Napoleon hated the internal band so he always had it removed,” as is the case with the model sold Monday, De Baecque said.
It has long been attributed to the emperor, with records confirming its ownership since a Dutch captain took it as a war trophy after the battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The auction house said the hat was sold with the box used for its display at the World Expo in Brussels in 1897.
It had passed down through the captain’s family until the end of the last century, when it was sold to a French collector.
Monday’s sale still fell short of the €1.9 million paid for a Napoleon bicorne four years ago — part of a prestigious collection auctioned off by Monaco’s royal family — to the owner of the South Korean food and agriculture giant Harim.
Demand for all things Napoleon has often sent prices spiralling well above estimates.
Last November a fragile gold laurel leaf from the crown made for Napoleon’s coronation in 1804, weighing just 10 grams, was sold for €625,000.