Drawing on the British film Out of the Ashes, and ethnography amongst UK Afghan migrants, this article examines images of war in Afghanistan, the discourse of civilisation and the politics of citizenship—as refracted through the representation (cricket) and praxis (football) of sport. Placing the film in a wider context of discourses that subordinate Afghans to the anachronistic fears or illimitable compassion of audiences of ‘Western’ nations engaged simultaneously in military and humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, it asks: To what extent does its narrative of peace-building, progress and internationalisation (‘making it to the world stage’) define Afghanistan’s entry into a ‘civilising project’ (Elias 1939)? What can a social and cultural analysis reveal about the processes and structures that govern politics, migration, identity—and ways Afghanistan inhabits the popular imagination? What is the peculiar potential of sport to pose a ‘solution’ to problems of violence, societal conflict and ‘integration’ for Afghans in a small UK city? To what extent do sporting practices reproduce, transform or create new—forms of power, racism and difference involving Afghanistan, and Afghans in diasporic locations?