Escape to a New Life (nd-aktuell.de)

Escape to a New Life (nd-aktuell.de)

Happiness in Melbourne: Fatima (second from left) is the goalkeeper and captain of the Afghan women’s football team.

Photo: Getty Images/Kelly Defina

The Taliban’s attack on the capital Kabul a year ago also affected the sports world badly. It is true that there are occasional stories about football games that also took place under the rule of holy warriors. However, its scope is very limited. A Pakistan team that wanted to play some friendly matches in Kandahar, Afghanistan, came to know in July. In the middle of the third game of the series, Taliban security guards stormed the football field, arrested the players and punished some of them by shaving their heads. According to a BBC report, a Taliban spokesman said the players violated the Islamic dress code. It prohibits showing naked body parts. Footballer calves are also subject to a ban if they are not covered properly.

What exactly is possible in the game is not clear. Website operated by exiled Iranians Iranwire For example, illegal sports facilities for martial artists were reported in Afghanistan. One athlete said that athletes who have been practicing the sport for a long time are looking for ways and means to continue doing so even in new circumstances. However, it is almost impossible to get young women and girls excited about the sport.

Zahra Hosseini confirms this to »ND«. In 2014, the 30-year-old archaeologist started the first combined cycling race for women and men in Bamiyan province. » The race went from the location of the destroyed Buddha statues to the city of Bamiyan. Many residents came to the road because they wanted to see the girls cycling. It was a huge success,” says Hosseini.

Slogan Girls »right to ride« (»Right to ride a bike«) Meanwhile scattered in the four winds. Hosseini himself reached Sweden. In August 2021, four days before the Taliban invasion, she received a scholarship to Stockholm. However, he did not leave the country until weeks later. Because it was not possible to go through the airport, she fled to Pakistan with a group of human rights activists and managed to travel to Scandinavia from there. A girl whom he once taught to ride a bike in Bamiyan is now studying in Japan. Hosseini’s closest friend is in Germany with his brother and father, who are also fond of cycling.

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» Two weeks ago, aid organizations managed to bring some girls to Italy with the support of the Italian Embassy. But I also know from some people who came to Kabul from Bamiyan that their condition there is very bad. They are afraid they want to get out,” says Hosseini. Cycling in Taliban’s Kabul is out of the question. Even under the previous government it was not easy. Hosseini had to first persuade the local mullahs of Bamiyan. “They wanted That we train the girls in a secluded place. I told them that we ride our bikes in the heart of the city and don’t want to isolate ourselves from men and boys,” she says with a smile. At that time the mullahs conceded defeat. But now the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law prevails.

So hundreds of top athletes have already left the country. There is no exact number about it. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had organized “more than 300 visas for members of the Afghan Olympic sporting community”. When asked by »ND«, the IOC did not answer how many of them were athletes, officials and family members. The World Cycling Federation (UCI) announced that it had helped evacuate 165 cyclists. This sparked bitter comments on Twitter. ‘What withdrawal? Which refugees?” video artist and cyclist Murtaza Amir asked sarcastically. Only a small number of athletes were said to belong to the UCI delegation. The World Cycling Federation did not respond to “ND”‘s request about the composition of that group given for which the departure was organized.

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But there are also real success stories. A group of women spread across Australia, Canada, England and Denmark organized the escape of the entire Afghan women’s football team as well as some members of the youth team. “We managed to get 80 people out of the country. The key to our success was the determination of the girls and women on the one hand, and the organization we rapidly built on the other. Not only did we send a list of people at risk to the government, but we also had visa applications for each. And we were in constant contact, providing information on the location of Taliban checkpoints around the airport and which gates were cheaper to enter the airport,” reports Alison Battison “ND “.

Australian is a lawyer and founder of human rights group human rights for all, who themselves were very active in the evacuation. Battison and his colleagues also advised athletes not to carry sports clothing in their luggage. “It would have been deadly for you to have this kind of ‘evidence,’ given Taliban laws that forbid women from playing sports,” she explains.

Afghan women’s football players have now fully dedicated themselves to the Australian club Melbourne Victory are linked. They participate in regular league operations in the province of Victoria – and are quite successful in this. “They are tremendous fighters, they can really dominate some rivals,” Battison says with pride. 8:0, 10:0, 12:0 Some teams are sent.

The women around Battison received no help from major sporting organizations such as the World Football Federation (FIFA) or the IOC. “There was nothing, neither practical nor strategic. The only ones who really helped and did a great job were the guys from the player union FifPro,” Battison says.

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It is not entirely clear how the Afghan game will continue. The IOC is in contact with both the country’s exiled National Olympic Committee and the Taliban’s sports officials. They also discussed a support package worth USD 560,000, which should benefit about 2,000 female athletes in the country. “Money was raised with the help of UNHCR Distributed, in accordance with the standard procedures of the UNHCR Regional Office. UNHCR also requires all recipients to be on site or available for phone calls,” the IOC said.

However, the deported athletes had expressed doubts that the funds from the aid fund went directly to the Taliban and not to the athletes. In any case, the IOC is targeting a mixed Afghan men’s and women’s team for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. It’s hard to imagine how this can be successful when women aren’t allowed to exercise at all and men have to cover themselves from chin to soles.

Only teams of refugees are realistic at this time. The women’s national football team can play a leading role. The men’s and women’s national basketball teams are currently in Albania and sometimes play advantage games there. Some cyclists train at the headquarters of the world federation UCI in Aigle, Switzerland. Martial artists, track and field athletes and snowboarders have traveled to Canada at the initiative of former Olympic judo participant Friba Raizzi. However, it is not clear whether they will continue training there or whether they will have to worry about adjusting to a new life first.

Bamiyan’s cycling pioneer Zahra Hosseini got back on her bike in July for the first time since her escape. “It was a great feeling,” she says. However, professional integration and dual language learning – Swedish and English at the same time – are initially a high priority.

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