Grapple gangs: Afghan fighters seek glory on a dusty Kabul field
Every weekend, fighters from all over Afghanistan gather on a public field in the capital to compete against each other in a sport that is a mixture of judo and wrestling.
The informal gatherings attract large partisan crowds, with fans cheering on their favorites - usually someone from their home district - and mocking those who want to see them lose.
"I fought for 17 years," said Mohammad Atef, a well-built 31-year-old from Samangan Province in northern Afghanistan, after beating his opponent with an expert throw.
"It's popular in Samangan, Kunduz, Baghlan - and Sheberghan has a lot of famous wrestlers too."
Judo and wrestling are particularly popular in the north, with villages and counties producing local champions who write them up for regional competitions and even national fame.
The discipline Afghans follow on the dusty field is a mix of both, with referees making sure an obscure set of rules is followed and declaring a winner.
Fights are usually resolved quickly - a fight rarely lasts more than a minute or two - and opponents hug regardless of the outcome.
"My competitor was from Kunduz today," said Atef after defeating his rival with an acrobatic throw.
"I used a spiral technique and finally defeated him."
Matches are run by promoters who select opponents based on a combination of weight and record.
There is a small purse for the winner, and although gambling is officially banned by the Taliban, it is clear that side bets are made on the fights - with money secretly switching hands between clever old viewers after each fight.
Hekmat, a 21-year-old also from Samangan, is at the beginning of his career and beamed after his first win at the weekend.
"It's been about 10 years since I've wrestled ... since I was a kid," he told AFP.
"I've just come to Kabul in the past few months after wrestling in other provinces and districts."
There was no sign of the Taliban in the crowd gathered in Kabul - those present said the group avoided physical competition.
"We'll organize that ourselves," said one referee. "This is not for the Taliban."
bur-fox / gle
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