KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Afghanistan Olympic Committee has elected entrepreneur Fahim Hashimy as president in a move it describes as its first step as a democratic, independent body.
Hashimy, a savvy 33-year-old businessman with investments in television, aviation, mining and construction, was elected unanimously in what he calls a vote for change. Previously, the Afghan committee came under the jurisdiction of the Afghanistan National Sports Directorate and had limited access to international competition.
"This is an extraordinary moment for the Olympic Movement in Afghanistan," Hashimy said. "It is a new day for our National Olympic Committee and the democratic processes of our country.
"The people of Afghanistan believe in the Olympic Movement. We believe in the positive, life changing opportunities the Olympics brings to our people. We believe in peace through sport."
The Olympic Council of Asia pushed for the independent elections in a bid to bring the country in line with the statutes for full IOC members. Hashimy acknowledged that it will be a challenge to remain independent from the government, but said it's a priority.
He said he was inspired to get involved in sports administration by the euphoric scenes following some of Afghanistan's recent performances in international football and cricket competitions.
"I saw Afghans dancing together in the streets. I saw the energy, the unity. It's a great thing," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "With sport, you can get results very quickly. We cannot compete in terms of technology, but we can win in sports. It's exciting."
Afghanistan's immediate sporting focus is sending teams to the Youth Olympic Games at Nanjing, China in August and the Asian Games at Incheon, South Korea starting in September. The intention is to send bigger contingents to future events, including the Olympics.
One of Hashimy's main goals is to increase the participation of women in sports. He knows it'll take a continued cultural shift, and says it'll only be achieved through trust.
He said he's investing his time and money into the NOC to develop strategies that will encourage companies and sponsors to invest down the line and help the national sports federations become more autonomous.
Afghanistan has sent athletes to all but five Summer Olympics since 1936 but has earned just two bronze medals. Rohullah Nikpai won the country's first Olympic medal when he finished third in his taekwondo division in Beijing in 2008. Nikpai won another bronze in taekwondo in London in 2012.
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