Two major sporting events are being prepared in the Swiss city of Eagle this year. The Tour de France is on July 9, and then, even more surprisingly, the Afghan Women’s Road Cycling Championship, October 23, 2022.
The city of Eagle in the canton of Vaud was chosen not by chance: here‘Union The International Cycling Federation (UCI) is headquartered. And above all, it was there that about twenty Afghan cyclists, who were expelled from the country after the Taliban came to power, were met since last autumn.
A high-risk operation remembered by UCI President David Lapparten, who co-organized the evacuation with the Swiss authorities. “It was necessary to find a plane that agreed to land in Afghanistan, where there is no more control over air traffic, and hence insurance. We had to find a country that also welcomes us in transit. And then, later, it was difficult to find host countries for athletes, knowing that some did not have identity documents. It was really very difficult“, – he recalls.
The idea of transferring the Afghanistan Women’s Championship to Switzerland soon became apparent to the UCI. Because cycling for Afghan women is much more than a sport: it is first and foremost a sign of progress and gender equality. A marker that was trampled by the Taliban. A few weeks after coming to power, they banned all sports for women, believing it to be contrary to Sharia law. In organizing the women’s race in Switzerland, the UCI sends both a sports and a political message: “For them, the bicycle was already the subject of emancipation. Before the fall of Kabul and Afghanistan, it was already difficult to ride a bicycle. It also continues to be a bit in the community because they need to find each other, participate in competitions that are probably not the Olympics or the highest level, but it is, I think, also an element of integration“Is appreciated David Lappartient.
>> Freedom restored for Afghan cyclists banned by the Taliban from playing sports in their country
The competition will not be at the level of the Tour de France – and logically, many participants have not had the opportunity to train in good conditions since the exile – but it is not a cheap race. The future winner will officially become the champion of Afghanistan and will receive points in the official UCI rankings.
The organization expects about fifty runners, all of whom have left their country. There will be participants from Italy, Canada, the United States, France, as well as Masoma Ali Zada, who participated in the Olympics in Tokyo as part of a refugee team created by the IOC. And then, of course, there will be about twenty Afghan cyclists who were evacuated and who remained in Switzerland. Among them is Wahida, who expects a lot from these championships: “My father-in-law from Afghanistan called me and said it was a great opportunity for me. He told me that I was lucky to be safe here, that I could train on good equipment. I have to work hard if I want to achieve my dream.“
Far next door, with his Afghan T-shirt on his shoulders, Farishta also wants to believe in victory, meaning that he will not run only for himself: “I really hope to be the first. I want to show my family in Afghanistan and all the women there that Afghan women are strong. I want us to know that we are able to participate in this kind of competition.“
The symbol is really very strong at a time when the Taliban is once again imposing the burqa on all women. Even if the competition is not broadcast live on television, and even if no runner has to become a professional, the simple fact that these championships can take place is already a small victory for Afghan women.