There were emotional scenes at the finish line of the Afghanistan National Cycling Championship on Sunday as sisters Fariba (19) and Yulduz (22) Hashimi finished first and second respectively.
Those championships were disputed in Aigle, Switzerland, not in Afghanistan, where “sport is dead for women,” according to Masomah Ali Zada, one of the participants.
The Hashimi sisters left a few days before the Taliban entered Kabul. Since then, Fariba began to build a new life in Italy.
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After this victory, Israel’s women’s WorldTour team – Premier Tech Roland offered Fariba a contract for the upcoming season, which she gladly accepted. That place in the team means Fariba has a chance to compete in the women’s Tour de France, and with the announcement of a continental under-23 team, Yulduz will join them next year.
Israel-Premier Tech owner Sylvan Adams, who played a key role in the rescue operations that helped hundreds of Afghans escape the Taliban in August 2021, said he was “making history here as these two brave women became the first in their country to reached this level of sport. It’s part of our commitment to helping young cyclists around the world, from developing countries to war zones. From our Race for Change initiative in Rwanda to Afghanistan, we are more than a cycling team. »
It was also a professional decision based on merit, explained Ruben Contreras, owner and manager of Israel’s Premier Tech Roland. “Both sisters competed for the Italian Valcar team and showed promise,” he said. “We expect them to grow with us.”
But for the newly minted champion, as she explained, this opportunity meant more than just career prospects.
“I can’t lie – it’s so exciting, but there’s also pressure. To be honest, I didn’t think I would have this opportunity to ride for a WorldTour team and compete in the Tour de France. I will accept the challenge and run for all the women of Afghanistan. My country today is dangerous for many women who live there. Women are not free to live and thrive as they want, but if they see me competing in the Tour de France in Afghan colours, they will see that anything is possible,” said Fariba Hashimi.
A total of 49 Afghan cyclists living in Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and Singapore competed in the 57-kilometer course around Aigle, this town in the canton of Vaud, where the UCI, at the initiative of these Championships, has its headquarters.
They were among 400 Afghan women rescued from the Taliban thanks to Canadian businessman and philanthropist Sylvain Adams, owner of the UCI World Tour – Israel – Premier Tech team, who worked in collaboration with IsraAID, a humanitarian aid organization based in Israel. and the Asian Cyclists’ Confederation to transport the women to safety.
Some found it difficult to complete the race because they had only been rescued a few months earlier and had neither the time nor the resources to train. But they did not give up, even when the 57-kilometer journey seemed painful.
One of those women, Zarifa Hussaini, was out of breath and exhausted, but flashed a big smile upon arrival.
“It was really hard to finish after more than a year of fighting to escape… but I couldn’t let go and stop. This was my race for freedom and I could not afford to give up,” she said.
Since their return, the Taliban have imposed a series of restrictions on civil society, many aimed at subjugating women to their ultra-strict ideas of Islam.
“Today in Afghanistan, it is simply unthinkable for a woman to do sports. And the situation is getting worse every day,” confirms Benafsha Faizi, a journalist and former spokesperson for the Afghanistan Olympic Committee, which was evacuated from the country with the help of the International Cycling Union (UCI) in 2021.
AFP contributed to this article.