‘I was doing sports to stand for human rights for girls’ - Afghanistan’s cyclists watch as Taliban outlaws women’s sport

Members of the Afghan girls’ cycling team have landed in the UAE after being evacuated from their home

Afghan refugees cycling in France
Afghan refugees cycling in France
(Image credit: JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP via Getty Images)

The Afghan girls’ cycling team have watched in horror as the Taliban have banned women from competing in sport after reclaiming control of the country.

Following the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan this year, the Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital Kabul last month, and this week the religious military organisation installed a hardline government to rule. 

As one of the first changes under the new regime, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission Ahmadullah Wasiq has said women will not be allowed to play cricket and other sports because “they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered.” 

On Monday (September 6), 41 Afghan refugees arrived in the United Arab Emirates from Tajikstan, including 25 members of the Afghan girls’ cycling team, CNN reports. 

One cyclist, who asked not to be named, said: “Oh my god it really is tough to explain our situation in words.

“The main reason I left Afghanistan is because I was not secure as an athlete. I was doing sports in Afghanistan, but nowadays that is not safe…I was forced to leave my country.”

>>> Fundraiser launched for the evacuation of Afghan women cyclists, who are currently destroying gear in fear of Taliban

The team’s former captain, Khalida Popal said: “We used to practice, we used to have competitions, we even used to compete with boys, and we were happy.

“As a girl cyclist, as an athlete, I was doing sports in Afghanistan to stand for right of humans, mostly girls. 

“I want to prove that girls are capable, that girls have the right to do what they want.” 

The refugees are being held in the UAE for processing, before they will be relocated to Canada to start their new lives. 

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.