Subject: DPA: Football as important as roads in Afghanistan and East Timor

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

November 21, 2002, Thursday

FEATURE: Football as important as roads in Afghanistan and East Timor

Kuantan, Malaysia

When German development worker Holger Obermann was on a flight back Afghanistan recently, he met a compatriot involved in road construction in the devastated country.

On hearing that Obermann was part of a football development scheme, the man could only shake his head in disbelief and say: "Football in Afghanistan! What's that about?"

"I think football is just as important as the paving stones you lay," was the 61-year-old's icy response.

Football trainer Obermann, who has been working in Asia as a sporting development worker for over a decade is used to people not understanding the importance of sport in humanitarian work.

"It brings children and youths together and gives them joy and hope. It offers them the opportunity to once again fully express themselves from the heart after years of oppression," says Obermann who is also working on similar programmes in East Timor.

The former Portuguese colony, which was nearly completely destroyed after Indonesian militias marched in in 1999, is a good example.

Thanks to support from the German Football Federation (DFB), the German Olympic Committee and charitable foundations, football is now considered one of the few positive forces in East Timor.

"We have trained over 200 people to be coaches, mostly in children's and youth football, and have set up four youth centres and initiated football schools," says the former German sports presenter.

Although Obermann's 25-year television career is behind him, he still has good contacts in the sporting world.

In 1999, for example, as German legend Franz Beckenbauer visited the Asian Football Federation (AFC) as part of Germany's successful campaign to host the 2006 World Cup, a coffee plantation owner from East Timor named Joao Carrascalao came and asked him if he could help football in the country.

Beckenbauer immediately agreed to organise funding from the DFB and knew who to call, saying "this is a job for Obermann".

Today, only three years later, Carrascalao is National Olympic Committee president for East Timor and the country has just become a fully fledged member the AFC.

The President of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, is a known football fan but will have to wait till at least 2006 before he can look forward to seeing his country as a part of world football's governing body FIFA.

Joseph Blatter, president of FIFA, has already promised development money to help set up a league and renovate the football stadium in the capital Dili, which currently has no running water, electricity or toilets.

But Obermann remains positive because he knows the sport has already captured the hearts of the world's youngest nation.

"Over 100,000 youths play football even though everywhere there's only stoney football pitches." dpa hu ab gb

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