Ausnew Home Care | How reviving a game from childhood is helping Afghan men in Shepparton

How reviving a game from childhood is helping Afghan men in Shepparton

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Just about every day of the week, as the light fades, Afghan men gather next to an oval in Shepparton in northern Victoria.

They meet to play "sangi rag".

It's a traditional Afghan game drawing eager crowds to a newly built pitch beside the Victory Park sports ground.

Most of the players come from refugee backgrounds.

They left family and belongings behind when they left Afghanistan in search of safety.

Many live in limbo on temporary protection visas.

Hazara community leader Abdullah Naveed said the game was something from home they could take anywhere.

Players just need a few stones that fit in the palm of a hand, a mound of dirt and something to use as a target — in this case, empty chilli sauce bottles.

A man in a grey top looks down a sports pitch, with a line of men behind him waiting for their turns.
Teams take turns bowling a stone at a target. (ABC Shepparton: Rosa Ritchie)

Before the pandemic, the men were playing in a patch of bush between residential streets.

They regularly spotted snakes around their makeshift pitch.

Mr Naveed said the players feared it was a matter of time until someone got hurt — or worse.

But if they stopped playing altogether, their mental health would suffer.

"Many times they came to my home, they called me, and they were saying 'one day, one of us will lose our life due to a snake bite'," he said.

"'Please do something for us. If we stay at home we will get sick'."

A man in a suit smiles at the camera with trees in the background.
Abdullah Naveed says the nightly games are a lifeline for Afghan men.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Rhiannon Tuffield)

Health benefit

Mr Naveed, who is a community development officer at the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District, said he started making calls.

He said an article in the local newspaper, Shepparton News, got the ball rolling.

Three years later — after the onset of a pandemic, the 2021 Taliban offensive and a city-wide flood in Shepparton — a pitch funded by Greater Shepparton City Council was opened.

Mr Naveed said it was the second pitch of its kind in Australia, after the Afghan community in Dandenong established the first.  

A man gets ready to throw a rock
Baba Ali aims his throw at the target.(ABC Shepparton: Rosa Ritchie)

Nasim Gulzari, who joins a game whenever he can find the time, said gathering to play the ancient game was good for mental and physical health.

"It can get emotional. It's very competitive," he said, laughing.

Some come to the pitch as spectators, to cheer, swap stories or quietly observe.

Mr Naveed said up to 70 people gathered on the busiest nights, and there were four core players who showed up for every game.

"When I see them happy, I am happy," he said.

sangi rak rock
Sangi rag requires a target and a few smooth, round stones. (ABC Shepparton: Rosa Ritchie)

How to play

Two teams of four or five compete by throwing rocks at a target from a distance.

Each player gets 10 throws, and whoever is closest to the target in each of the 10 rounds wins that round for their team.

Hitting the target directly earns double points and the team that reaches 10 points first is the winner.


Source: ABC

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