The past year has been incredibly difficult to navigate with the Afghan National Women’s Team. The corruption, illegal actions, and dysfunction of Coach Seddiqe the women’s coach, founder and former President of the Afghan Cycling Federation as well as the corruption within the ACF and the Afghan Olympic Committee itself have present roadblocks to supporting the team that go way beyond the cultural barriers that have kept girls off bikes. We removed formal support to the ACF earlier this year after they refused to admit corruption and mismanagement on a massive scale. The irony of the man who started the team and the ACF also being their biggest barrier is not lost on me, even after working in Afghanistan for almost a decade. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in Afghanistan is that there is no black and white. There is no hero and villain. Everything there are shades of grey.
While figuring out solutions to supporting the girls that ride on the disintegrating national team in Kabul, the men’s national team fired Coach Seddiqe, and are rebuilding along with a team of young girls, under the official Afghan Cycling Federation which voted Coach Seddiqe out. I visited Kabul in May, the girls under Coach do not have the agency or the opportunity to leave him. He controls everything, including their access to bikes and real training and they are scared to leave him and lose what they perceive is their only opportunity to train and race. Five girls were preparing for a trip to France to take part in training camp and Gran Fondo race in Albi which was sponsored by the French Embassy. Two girls took the podium in their age group, sisters Massouma and Zahra. A major step forward for these two women I first met three years ago when they could barely ride their bike in a straight line.
Unfortunately two other girls ran away at the Paris airport, scuttling plans we were making to bring the team to the US for training. Visas are already difficult for Afghans, but now for these girls its virtually impossible until we build a track record of travel that proves they aren’t a flight risk. This will take a couple of years according to the State Department and the US Embassy in Kabul.
Upon returning, we discussed leaving Coach, but they need their own bikes and an interim coach. After much thought, we agreed to this: If we can get them new road bikes, integrate them with the official ACF, and they leave Coach Seddiqe once and for all, I will act as an interim coach in coordinated with the men’s team. That means training camps outside of Afghanistan, but due to the lack of visa access for US and Europe, these camps will be kept in the region. This will allow us access for coaches and trainers to work with the girls in ways that’s not possible in Afghanistan, due to decreased security and lack of training resources.
Massouma has expressed a real desire to take part in the 2020 Olympics. She always wants to be trained as a Coach herself. Our goal is to get her professional coaching training with the UCI and IOC, while training her for the next four years to take part in the Asia Games and the next Olympics. She recognizes this isn’t possible under Coach Seddiqe and that he is a ‘bad man’ and that they have been used as pawns for him to control for his own personal gain.
This is a major evolution forward. In three years, the national team has strengthened despite the corruption with five strong and dedicated riders. A second team of girls has formed under Zahra Hosseini in Bamiyan, they have also produced the first women’s races and ‘right to ride’ events in the country without the help or support of the AFC or the AOC. We have donated Liv mountain bikes and locally built commuter bikes to these girls to further the development and access. Three girls bike clubs have formed organically in Kabul, we have given bikes to each of these clubs. There are girls riding and training in Mazar i Sharif. This is real progress, and a real revolution in a country that has never seen its women and girls be allowed to ride bikes. They are riding now and with the accolades of National Geographic Adventurer, and the Nobel Peace Prize nomination – the world is watching. Now they need us to help through the next hurdle with tangible actions and support.
What we need now:
5 new high end road bikes for the girls to keep themselves for training.
10 new entry level/mid level road bikes for the second women’s team in Bamiyan that is training currently on donated Liv mountain bikes. They have expressed a desire to race and two of the girls will be part of the training camps we create outside of Afghanistan.
Financial support for training camps and racing outside of Afghanistan for these young women.
Stipends for the 5 girls that are training and racing to help balance the time spent away with their responsibility to the family.
You can donate directly at http://www.mountain2mountain.org/donate
You can help us find partners and sponsors to support these girls for the 2020 Olympics, we have a four year journey ahead.