Afghan reality TV show's goal is national unity

Kabul

Thousands of Afghan footballers have signed up to participate in trials to compete in the country's first professional league.

The trials are part of a reality show called Maidan e Sabz (Green Field) and the audience will have a chance to vote for the players they want to make it on to the teams, alongside selections by judges from the Afghan Football Federation (AFF).

The AFF is holding trials in six cities including Kabul, Jalalabad and Mazar-e Sharif. In each, 30 people will be selected from the thousands who have registered. They will then be put through drills designed to showcase their natural flair and ability, such as dribbling and shooting, allowing judges to weed down the hopefuls. In the final selection of the 18-man teams, judges will pick 15 players and a studio audience will vote for the final three. After the players are selected, 16 games will be played in September.

The first episode of the show – which is the brainchild of Moby Group, the Afghan media group that owns the popular Tolo TV channel – aired early this month at 9pm, the prime-time TV slot in Afghanistan. "Football is very, very popular here," said Tolo TV's channel manager, Massoud Sanjer. "If you walk around, you will see people playing in parks and in the dusty streets. Western teams from outside Afghanistan are very popular. You can see Barcelona and Real Madrid logos on car stickers and T-shirts."

While the national cricket team are national heroes, the football team have been overlooked. sports fans only began to take notice at the end of last year, when Afghans reached the finals of the South Asian Football Federation Championship, and lost 4-0 to India. In the same way the cricket team, mainly made up of players from the Pashtun ethnic group, are venerated by people across the country regardless of ethnicity, football league organisers also hope to foster a sense of national unity.

The public will vote for three players who can join the country's first professional football league

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