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Afghan athletes set to make history

May 21, 2004 18:42 IST
Two 17-year-old girls left Afghanistan for Greece on Friday knowing that, win or lose at the Athens Olympics, they will enter the history books.

Robina Muqimyar and Fraiba Rezzay realise the odds will be against them when they compete against the world's best, but as the first females ever to represent Afghanistan at the ultimate sporting event, taking part counts for plenty.

"My fastest time is 15 seconds," said Muqimyar, a 100 metres sprinter up against women looking to better 11 seconds.

"I'm not worried about that," she said just before leaving, flanked by her father and young brother. "Because of the situation in Afghanistan, we've not been able to train properly. In other countries girls will have had a better chance to train."

Less that three years after the fall of the Taliban, which banned women from sport and girls from school, and even sooner after its re-admission to the international sporting fold, five athletes boarded an Ariana flight in Kabul.

Muqimyar and Rezzay (judo) were joined by a male sprinter, boxer and wrestler, as well as female judo coach Tafsir Siapoush.

"I feel very happy, since this is the first time Afghanistan women will be able to participate in the Olympic Games," Siapoush said.

For the girls, the path to the Olympics has been short and the learning curve steep.

At the time of the last summer games, held in Sydney in 2000, the hardline Islamic Taliban regime ruled Afghanistan, and the landlocked nation was shunned by the international community for gross

human rights abuses, particularly of women.

Since then the militia has been routed and Afghans are picking up the pieces after more than two decades of war.


The going is still tough for female athletes in a male-dominated society where many women still wear the heavy coverall burqa veil and enjoy few rights.

Muqimyar trained at Kabul's main stadium, the stage under the Taliban for public executions of women and men as well as amputations to enforce strict Islamic law.

Rezzay trained at the country's only studio for female judo players, while male gyms and boxing clubs are relatively common in the capital, and stayed open under the Taliban.

The team, funded by the Greek government, travels to Athens via Istanbul, and will spend five to six weeks on the Greek island of Lesbos before heading to Thessalonika for further training and acclimatisation.

After nine members of the Afghan national soccer team went missing from a training camp in Italy in April, Olympic team members were asked by reporters whether they intended to return.

"I'll be back," said the stocky wrestler, Bashir Ahmad. "My own country is the best place for me and I hope to bring back something great from Athens," he grinned.

Six of the soccer players were arrested after seeking asylum in Germany and sent home, the team was disbanded and a football federation official called it a slur on Afghanistan's honour.

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