“Growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, in their culture they love rugby, it’s just in their blood … we were in schools that gave us the privilege to play this sport,” Zakir, the youngest brother, said.
It wasn’t just about the sport and playing rugby, it was about the whole country and how much they’ve been suffering over the years.
“Sport gets everyone together.”
Rugby sevens silver medallists but sponsorless
The team’s captain, Omar, is a recognisable face, too, as one of the entertaining contestants with his friend, Osman, on Nine’s The Block series this year.
One of the older brothers, Sabir Slaimankhel, had a dream to bring his brothers together to play the sport they love. Source: Supplied / Zakir Slaimankhel
While all 11 other teams had 14 players, Afghanistan only had nine at the tournament, with no physiotherapist, and often had to play with no reserves on the bench.
“We had no numbers. We were stuck in Auckland. We were training by ourselves just before the tournament … it’s quite remarkable making it all the way,” Sabir said.
Omar (left) and Zakir Slaimankhel (right) are two of the five brothers in the Afghanistan team at the Asia Rugby Sevens Championship in Jakarta in August 2022. Source: Supplied / Zakir Slaimankhel
And getting there didn’t come cheap. Without sponsors, the Slaimankhels were out of pocket more than $20,000 to make it to the tournament in Jakarta.
“We were teary and emotional when we heard that national anthem in the final,” Zakir added.
Afghanistan fought all the odds and claimed silver at the Asia Rugby Sevens championship. Source: Supplied / Zakir Slaimankhel
“I think it was something that we will remember and our kids will remember for the rest of our lives.”
“Quite a lot of people now know Afghanistan has a pretty decent rugby team,” Sabir said with a smile.
With most of the team hailing from New Zealand, the boys became national heroes for the Afghan diaspora back home and around the world.
Backing from the All Blacks
According to Curry, their drive for the game they inherited during their childhood in New Zealand was “inspiring”.
Sabir (left), Sayear (centre) and Zakir (right) are vying for gold at next year’s tournament. Source: Supplied / Zakir Slaimankhel
“For them, two families from New Zealand to represent Afghanistan in the Asia games and to come out second, it’s pretty impressive.”
Honouring their uncle’s legacy
Beyond working as an orthopaedic surgeon for decades, he dedicated his spare time to working in refugee charity work.
Dr Hashem Slaimankhel was a prominent New Zealand community leader who spent much of his time helping refugees. In 2018, he lost his life during a bomb attack in Kabul. Source: Facebook
“[Our uncle] brought us to Auckland, New Zealand to live a safer life. But his time was up when he went back to Afghanistan,” Zakir said.
“He just tried to put a smile on other people’s lives. And that really implemented something on us, trying to make us better people in life as well.”
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