Afghan cyclists defend their freedom to compete in the Alps

Young Afghan cyclists disputed this Sunday in the Swiss town of Aigle, headquarters of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the road cycling championship of their country, a test that due to the coming to power of the Taliban cannot be held in Afghanistan, where women, withdrawn from the public sphere, have also stopped being able to play sports. The 50 runners, all of them living outside their country, posed with the black, red and green flag of Afghanistan overthrown by the Taliban before leaving with their bicycles from the same headquarters of the UCI to dispute a race of 57 kilometers, with only 72 meters of unevenness despite running through alpine landscapes.

Among the participants, Masomah Alizada, 26 years old and resident of Lille (France) since 2017expressed his hope that this championship sends the message to Afghan women that “they are not alone”, and at the same time warns the world that it has to respond to the repression that Afghan women suffer with more than words. ”Unfortunately for the women of Afghanistan today sport is prohibited, and what girls dream of today is to be able to go to school, competing is already something completely unthinkable”, she commented. The runner told Efe, who affirms that after practicing several sports she chose to dedicate herself to cycling “because on the bicycle, running through the streets of Kabul, I felt very free.”

“We hope that this race sends a message, that the world must help the women of Afghanistan with more than words, it is not enough for them to tell us that they are sad for us”, added Alizada, the youngest of three sisters who compete today in the championship and the only one who has played in the Olympic Games (Tokyo 2020). Her sister Zahra was also happy to be able to compete in the championship, even if it had to be far from her country, and above all to be able to meet some of her fellow athletes, since some of them, due to the difficulties their country is experiencing, He hadn’t been able to see them for five years. ”This race is very important, because if we share it on social networks, the women who remain in Afghanistan will know that this competition still exists., and that it is still possible for Afghan women to play sports, even if it has to be in other countries. It will give them hope,” he told Efe.

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“It is a message of hope”

Of the 50 competitors today (22 in senior category and 28 in sub-23) 22 live and train in Italy, 11 in Switzerland, 10 in Canada, four in France, two in Germany and one in Singapore. Many of them had to live an authentic odyssey to leave their country after the Taliban came to powersomething they achieved after months of procedures and failed evacuation attempts, in which the UCI and politicians from various countries, including the United States, Canada or France, were involved. ”First we tried to take them by bus to neighboring Tajikistan, and when three buses were already at the border, the permit was denied.so it had to be done by air, without controls and in the middle of nowhere,” UCI president David Lappartient told Efe.

The head of the UCI was decorated this Saturday by authorities in Afghanistan before the Taliban for his efforts to maintain Afghan women’s sport. “This championship, more than a sports competition, is a message of hope to the women of Afghanistanto whom we say that we continue to remember them, telling them that playing sports is still possible and that we hope that one day the race can return to Afghan territory”, added Lappartient.

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