This past weekend, sisters and Afghan cyclists, Massouma and Zahra Alizada, raced together France. They were part of a program sponsored by the French Embassy to bring the Afghan National Cycling Team to Albi, France to take part in a qualifier race for a world championship in Australia. I met with five girls invited in Kabul a few days before they left. Massouma, Zahra, Zhala, Malika, and Frozan and I discussed the opportunity at a cafe in Kabul and their frustration with the corruption and lies of Coach Seddiqi. That will discussed more at length in a separate post that I have been steeling myself to write in the wake of a frustration and disturbing Afghan visit to get to the bottom of the corruption once and for all.
I met with the French Embassy to speak to their representative Valerie Blachier about the plan to bring the girls to France and the corruption that surrounded the cycling federation and Coach in particular. She didn’t want to hear about Coach, in fear that it would put and end to the trip. I insisted that she understand the realities of what was happening, and she assured me that they would watch him carefully, escort the team everywhere, and that he would be blacklisted when they returned from France. She was also interested in our desire build upon this project with future training camps in France so that we could build a partnership with France Embassy and the team as I had discovered how difficult it would be to get visas for the girls to come to the US.
A few days later, the girls and Coach boarded the plane in Kabul to Paris. Via Facebook I discovered that two girls, Malika and Frozan had run away. Escaped into Europe. Three girls remained, and headed to Toulouse and onwards to Albi for two weeks training culminating with the race. Malika and Frozan are okay, and we plan to stay in contact with them, although it comes as a great embarrassment to the French Embassy and put future visas for the team at risk. Ironically within 24 hours I found out that two Afghan athletes visiting the US on a State Department sponsored trip ran away in California.
The remaining three girls trained daily, and were the darlings of the French press and media during their stay. Zhala was unfortunately too young to race, so that left Massouma and Zahra to compete. They rocked our Afghanistan Strength in Numbers jerseys produced by Primalwear and then they rocked the racecourse. We got the news that they took the podium after a 100km race at 2nd and 3rd position and qualified for a world championship race in Australia. I am still awaiting details on the race itself and if the French are planning to support the girls and the expenses to Australia.
Most importantly, I am waiting to see what the girls, the French Embassy, and the UCI have to say about Coach and his future as the head of the girls cycling team in the wake of continued corruption and mismanagement.
In the meantime, a huge thanks to the partners and individuals that have supported these girls for the past three years that allowed them to get to this point in particular; Liv Cycling and Hogan Lovells. We couldn’t be more grateful to you, nor prouder of the girls themselves.
photos by Patrick Oumunal in Albi, France via Facebook