Fighting Corruption, One Bike at a Time

27AFGHANWOMEN-WEB1-master768Photo Credit: Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

Yesterday the story of the ongoing corruption and mismanagement and possible abuse in Afghan women’s sports federations finally was published by Rod Nordland of the New York Times, titled Corruption in Afghanistan All but Cripples Women’s Team Sports.  Our founder spoke with Rod several weeks ago when he contacted her about our withdrawl of support for the Afghan Cycling Federation.  She shared with him our experiences and frustrations and discovered he had found proof of some my accusations against Coach Seddiqi and against the cycling federation that had fallen on deaf ears when we had voiced our concerns.

Shannon had confronted Coach Seddiqi last July in Kabul about the corruption and mismanagement, and as we and she have written about in previous blogposts, not only did he deny any mismanagement to her face, he made it worse with the South Asian Championships debacle in India that he didn’t take the girls to (see previous posts), which denied them the chance to race outside of Afghanistan and represent their country.  The Afghan Cycling Federation’s new Secretary General, Fazli Ahmad Fazli, denied any mismanagement and was insulted that I would even mention the word corruption.  He made it clear that our help wasn’t needed, that the accusations were an insult and unfounded, and thus we made it clear that Mountain2Mountain would remove all formal support from the cycling federation effective immediately.

While the NYT article saddens many people that have reached out, it makes me happy to see the systemic abuse of power be exposed so that those in power cannot hide behind each other anymore.  Change doesn’t happen in silence, voices, many voices, must be willing to speak up to challenge corruption.  Even as I write this, I hear news that there may be a new Afghan Olympic Committee President, this despite the continued disputes since the election last year.  Its just another sign of the lack of leadership, stability, and the corruption that has plagued the sporting institutions in Afghanistan from the very top of the food chain, all the way down.  This affects not just the women, but the men’s teams as well….corruption is genderless in Afghanistan.”  – Shannon Galpin

But as in all things in Afghanistan, its usually worse for the women.  When women are forced to remain in structures were the men are in the positions of power, even something as empowering as cycling, or soccer, or cricket, it becomes another source of oppression and entrapment.  The women in Afghanistan may be breaking barriers, but the biggest barrier to women’s sports in that country is ironically the same institutions that are in place to allow women to compete.

Coach Seddiqi was finally removed in an election last month as the President of the Cycling Federation. He was replaced by a man we met in Bamiyan in 2014 during a training camp for the national team we put together, he was the head of the local Provincial Olympic Committee at the time.  Coach Seddiqi has also been fired by the men’s team, but he remains as coach of the women’s team because they are afraid.  Afraid that if they stand up to him, they will lose their only chance to ride, their only chance to compete.  He holds all the control.  And they know it.  Perhaps this NYT’s article gives enough weight for the allegations of mismanagement and corruption that they can feel confident to speak up.

Just last week, we received information that the Coach was intending to sell the remaining donated bikes, we immediately contacted him through a third party and informed him that we were coming to Kabul to meet with him and fully expected that all bikes donated to the federation would be accounted for when we visit.  He cannot operate in the shadows pretending he is a good man, that he is working on behalf of the girls, he is not.  He is working for himself and himself alone.

Looking ahead, we have been working on plans to bypass the corruption and directly support the girls in several ways.  The tentative plan, determined by visas issued by the US government,  is to bring the girls to the US this fall for a training workshop with the hope of creating a future all-Afghan cycling team here in Colorado in 2017 that could support and train these women to become the next generation of leadership for the team in Afghanistan.  This allows us to bypass the majority of the corruption and empower women to be in charge of developing the women’s cycling program.  This has been being planned for many months with an incredible team of cycling professionals who believe in these girls and in their ability to create a two wheeled revolution that puts women in the leadership positions and provide real coaching and training for those that want the opportunity to race.

Beyond that we plan to meet with the Afghan Olympic Committee leadership and the new leadership of the Afghan Cycling Federation, alongside the men’s and women’s team to discuss the future of this sport in Afghanistan.  We will also be speaking with government officials about the state of women’s sports and the Olympic federations in general.  These talks will determine how we continue to support this program and these girls that have had to endure yet another barrier.

In the meantime, a huge thanks to our sponsors, Liv Cycling, Skratch Labs, Osprey Packs, and Hogan Lovells and the individual donors and sponsors that have supported us over the past three years.   In the past three years, three new bike teams and clubs for women have started, Afghanistan saw its first women’s bike races and ‘right to ride’ pubic events, the girls raced in Kazakhstan, and they were recognized by National Geographic Adventurer for their bravery and courage.  This article doesn’t take any of that away – it gives us the ammunition needed to bring change and the fight corruption that impedes the opportunities and dreams of these young women, and all the female athletes in Afghanistan.

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