Afghan Special Olympians enter the Ghazni Stadium.
The football team carries a banner bearing Sgt. John Langford’s name. The Afghan Special Olympics organizers named the team after John Langford in recognition for his efforts in making the Summer Games possible.
Sgt. John Langford (right) presents medals to some of the Special Olympians.
Sgt. John Langford.
By Supt. Richard Boughen, RCMP, Canadian Police Mission, Afghanistan
In August 1998, a British newspaper reporter described events which took place at a packed Kabul stadium (now called Ghazni Stadium). Three men were to be punished for various crimes in front of more than 5,000 spectators: the first man would lose both hands; the second man, a foot at the ankle, and the last man would be fatally shot.
During the reign of the Taliban, public punishment was an all-too-common occurrence. The leaders of the Taliban regime preached to the laypeople that it was virtuous to attend executions. While the Taliban were in power, so much blood was spilled at the stadium that the stained pitch had to be completely replaced.
Fast forward to earlier this year. One of my colleagues on the Canadian police contingent, Calgary Police Sgt. John Langford, heard that the Afghan Special Olympics had to cancel their summer games because of financial difficulties.
John has been a volunteer for the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics in Calgary for several years and decided he would help. He organized a Canada Day ball hockey tournament and raised over $500 for the Afghanistan Special Olympics.
While that was a good start, he knew more money would be needed to run the Special Olympics, so he applied for a donation from Boomer’s Legacy Fund (http://www.boomerslegacy.ca/). This fund was set up in memory of a Canadian soldier and medic, Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2006. John was thrilled when Boomer’s Legacy donated $5000.
In August, John presented over $5,500 to a representative of the Afghanistan Special Olympics in a small and private event at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. During the ceremony, we learned another piece of the story.
Earlier this year, the Special Olympics team was in a neighbouring country training and visiting. A group of insurgents attacked them, hospitalizing some of the kids and adults. Although the attack was reported to the appropriate government officials, nothing was done. So when the money was presented to the Special Olympics representative, it was indeed a very special and emotional time; his gratitude was palpable and absolutely genuine.
On August 30th, Sgt. John Langford and a few other Canadian police attended the opening ceremonies of the Afghanistan Special Olympics at Ghazni Stadium, where they were treated like honoured guests. There were few fans and little fanfare, but there was what makes every great sporting event possible –dedicated athletes and caring coaches.
We watched as different groups – about 200 athletes - marched on the track. It was much like how athletes from different countries march in during the Olympic opening ceremonies. One of the last groups held a large sign that said “Mr. John Lang Ford Football Team”. The Afghan organizers had decided to honour John by naming the football team after him. John knew nothing of the gesture until that moment, and the look on his face was priceless. I would describe it as a mix of shock, honour, pride and the embarrassment of a humble man who has done a greater deed than he could have predicted.
After watching a couple of races, John and some of his colleagues presented medals to the participants. At an event like this, it is true that everyone wins, especially the spectators.
Fourteen years ago, this place was a killing ground, a place of cruelty, inhumanity and horror. Today, it was a place of peace, a place where athletes gathered and competed and cheered for one another in a real and meaningful way, where coaches cared for their charges and encouraged them to attempt their individual 100%. On this day, this was a place of hope.
Through the force of one person’s deeds, a small part of many people’s lives changed. Change occurs most profoundly to those who are close enough for us to touch; I witnessed that today.