It is with a heavy heart that we officially removed our support of the Afghan Cycling Federation. After 3 years of working to support the women’s national cycling team I have determined that the mismanagement and corruption of many involved at the Afghan cycling federation cannot be fixed. Its difficult to come to this conclusion on the heels of the team being recognized as National Geographic Adventurers of the Year and their nomination as part of Bike the Nobel for the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a dream come true that these girls are being recognized for their bravery and courage on two wheels. Yet supporting the infrastructure doesn’t support the girls. Time and time again, I’ve seen mismanagement and corruption, yet I have tried to work directly to find solutions, discuss future plans, and advocate for the girls. Mountain2Mountain, myself, and the Afghan Cycles film crew have created a powerful PR machine that has elevated this group of girls into worldwide acclaim. Press and media have been covering these girls and my work in Afghanistan steadily for the past 3 years and that is ramping up again on the heels of the Nobel Peace Prize nomination. They are the darlings of the media right now, doing interviews, and sharing their story.
photos by Deni Bechard
Yet in parallel to the success of the team at breaking barriers and inspiring other girls to ride, there is a system of corruption that I can no longer deal with in good conscious. During the formal announcement of the Peace Prize nominations, the team was supposed to be racing in India at the South Asian Championships. We sent over racing kits and the funding to get 5 girls there plus the Coach. Instead, the team got to Dehli and stayed there instead of traveling on to Guhwati. There they visited Coach’s extended family, he took his new wife to the doctor, and they had one group ride through town. The girls were denied their chance to race and represent their country because of mismanagement at best, corruption at worst. This is just the most recent example, there have been many throughout the past three years, this one was simple the most blatant.
There is no effort by the cycling federation in Kabul to support and encourage the other groups of girls that are starting clubs and teams. Instead these young women that are riding without the safety or direction of anyone but themselves are mocked and ignored. Girls like Zhara who started teaching girls to ride as a social movement, registered a team with the sports federation and yet is excluded from the federation, and insulted by the Coach. Instead of understanding that bike clubs only give the federation more strength, that more girls riding strengthens the national team in the long run, the Coach sees them as a threat to his power and control of his fiefdom.
Fiefdoms and power struggles exist throughout Afghanistan, even in the most benign areas like a federation of a sport deemed not worth supporting by the Afghan Olympic Committee. The previous President of the Afghan Olympic Committee told me directly that it was difficult to get the AOC to even do the paperwork to send the girls to the Asian Games last year in South Korea, even if they were funded, because they are considered a C level sport, and the AOC only wants to support A level sports like football and cricket because they don’t want to look like amateurs. We fought hard together to get one girl allowed a spot to go.
There is much more to be said about the past 3 years, I intend to focus on the gains. Since I started working with the team in 2013, they have raced out of their country, been part of training camps where I taught them and the Coach, how to shift, how to draft, and how to ride in a pack. We discussed nutrition and hydration because the girls and the boys weren’t eating or drinking anything on their rides, and then bonking. Hard. We discussed a longterm plan, barriers to involvement, and how to expand. The girls improved, we donated new bikes and helmets with Liv Cycling. Their story is in two museums as examples of sports diplomacy. They have been in over a hundred press articles in over 30 countries. They were recognized by National Geographic and the Nobel Peace Prize committee this year.
That said, I am not giving up on the girls. These girls deserve to be supported and I have determined that the best way to do this is to support them directly. We will be making an announcement soon about this, and until then we are grateful for everyone who believed in these girls and helped support them over the past three years. We have to get creative and recognize that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
As this year unfolds, we see their story only spreading more, and with the post production of Afghan Cycles finishing up, their story will soon be told on the big screen. The future sees a new chapter in this story as we continue to work to support the girls in Kabul, in Bamiyan, and elsewhere to continue to ride, to break barriers, and to believe in their own future for years to come. Stay tuned, this is going to be good. #pedalarevolution