Tag Archives: cycling

Fighting Corruption, One Bike at a Time

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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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Kabul Biker Gang Gets Some Bikes

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Ask anyone you know about their love of bikes and they all say something about freedom.  “I feel free when I ride my bike”.  “I love the freedom I feel when I ride.” “Cycling gives you wings.”

In a country where women and girls have not been allowed to ride bikes, and where it is still a deeply seated taboo, there is a two wheeled revolution taking place.  What was a handful of girls just a couple years ago, is steadily growing and growing without the oversight of men.  Girls teaching girls to ride.  In Kabul, in Bamiyan, and in other pockets in the country women are empowering themselves with freedom of mobility.

Last summer, as we were working with the national team in Kabul and  riding bikes with two young women in Bamiyan, a young Afghan woman was spearheading her own bike clubs as part of a Girl Up project.  Fatima Haidari goes to high school in the US and spends her summers back in Kabul with her family.  We found out about her project and fell in love with the photos she posted of her and the girls in Kabul riding bikes they had borrowed.

Last month, we donated ten bikes to the club so that the girls would have some bikes of their own to ride.  Our longtime friend and fixer, Najibullah met Nahid, who had become the de facto leader of the club while Fatima is away at school, at the bike market to purchase bikes for the girls and arrange delivery.  The film crew from Afghan Cycles was in country finishing production and was able to be there for the delivery and interview the girls who have formed their own biker gang Kabul-style.

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The bike has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. Its gives women a feeling of freedom and self reliance.  I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” Susan B. Anthony

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If you’d like to support this two wheeled revolution – you can donate here – what we do doesn’t happen without your help!

photo credit Jenny Nichols

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Women Ride Bamiyan – Cycling Takes Over

Last week, high in the Hindu Kush, a bike race was born. And there were girls. Girls borrowed bikes and took over the main road out of Bamiyan and their smiles tell the story.  The girl in the burgundy hat is Zahra, one of the first girls in the region to ride a bike.  She started teaching other girls to ride, and today there are around 30, many riding their bikes not for sport, but to get to and from school.  One of the young men that races on the men’s national team from Bamiyan, Mohammad, was part of the ride and supported these girls as a race official.

We have had the pleasure of skiing and riding with some of these girls, including Zahra, last spring, and in May there were only a handful of girls riding.  We hosted a training camp with the Kabul based national team, and Mohammad joined us for that ride too.  We met with Zahra and learned more about her story and why she started teaching young women to ride and how the community has reacted.  We rode around in front of the buddha niches and through town, while a young group of boys followed us around excitedly.  The number of girls riding here continues to grow, as does our desire to support them as they normalize bikes in their community, one girl at a time.   #pedalarevolution


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Global Solidarity Ride Launches

August 30th, we pedal a revolution!  Bikers, cyclists, commuters, and striders will take to their wheels in solidarity with the Afghan women that dare to ride, and in remembrance of the women that dared to ride before and in doing so, paved the way for independent mobility and freedom for women around the world.

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Help Send the Afghan Women to the Asian Games

So its official.  The Afghan National Women’s team will go to the Asian Games in South Korea this September!  This will be the first time that an Afghan woman has competed in cycling in such a world class event.

Backstory: Although the mens and women’s teams were invited to the Games, which only occur every four years, the Afghan Olympic Committee was not going to send any members of the men’s or women’s team to the Games because they felt they wouldn’t be able to compete on the world stage and represent Afghanistan in a positive light.  I met with the President of the Afghan Federation, Fahim Hashimy two weeks ago in Kabul, and discussed the progress of the women’s team and the positive story of women’s rights and sports development that they represent is stronger than their racing ability.  The men’s team is relatively strong for the region and both teams can learn a lot and the opportunity will be integral to their development.

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Afghan Team Heads to Asia Cycling Championship

The Afghan Women’s National Team rolled out today in Kabul for their long journey to Astana, Kazakhstan for the Asia Cycling Championship.

Mountain2Mountain secured funding to pay for the visas, passports, travel, lodging, and racing fees for 4 racers, Coach Sediqe, and an assistant.  Thanks in large part to the current President of the Afghan Olympic Committee who we petitioned for support, we were able to financially support their inclusion in this important international competition.

They will be racing on their new Liv/giant composite racing frames, helmets, and jerseys.  We are excited to see the team represent Afghanistan  in this major cycling competition.

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Support Afghan Women’s Cycling with our Afghan Inspired Cycling Kits

Strength in Numbers just got real.

 

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Thanks to the generosity of Primal Wear, and the beautiful bike mandala created by April Lemly, we are excited to share Strength in Number’s newest look with an Afghan inspired twist.  These are the jerseys that the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team will be rockin in their future international races.  We are so proud of these women and hope that the jerseys unite the team and the nation behind the women that are daring to ride – changing the very culture of women and cycling one pedal stroke at a time.

We are excited to announce the creation of the 2014 Strength in Numbers replica cycling kits will help support our continued work with the women’s national team development.

Pre sales of these kits are available as of today and delivery will be early July – in time to rock the kits for the upcoming Global Solidarity Ride on August 30th with the Afghan women and the global cycling community that is inspired by their courage on two wheels.

How to get yours?  You email info@mountain2mountain.org with your order.  We’ll direct you to make the donation and confirm your mailing address.  July 5th we’ll package up the orders and mail out to you.  In exchange we ask that you send us a photo of you rocking the jersey and that you commit to riding your bike, creating a group ride, or joining an existing ride (stay tuned for details) on August 30th to show your commitment to the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team and the spread of the women’s cycling revolution in Afghanistan and beyond.

The only change on the replica kits will be that the Afghanistan on the back of the jerseys and jackets will say ‘Strength in Numbers’ and a few more logos will be added to the back pockets and the purple Liv logo on the shorts will be removed for the replica shorts.  All three pieces are available in all sizes for men and women, but those of you that tried to get sizes last year and we were already sold out, this is your chance with a pre-order to get exactly what you want!  Get yours now and rock it all year in support of the women that dare to ride!

Pricing = $110 for each jacket, $100 for jerseys and $95 for the shorts – this includes all US shipping.  Overseas orders may have extra shipping charges.  Want one?  Email info@mountain2mountain.org to place our order and learn how to donate.

Want more information on the Global Solidarity Ride and our work with the women’s team?  Check out our previous blogs linked to both, and stay tuned for much more information in the month ahead.  #pedalarevolution

 

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Want to help support the team and their development?  You can donate directly at www.mountain2mountain.org/donation

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For the Love of a Bike

Do you remember your first bike?  Odds are, you remember distinctly the color, the shape of the seat, it may have even had a name.  Mine was a  bright blue Schwinn.  It was stolen off my front porch a few months later and I was heartbroken.  My second was pink with a banana seat.  I was careful not to leave it on the front porch and it was my faithful friend until junior high when I got my first steel blue ten speed.  Funny how bikes mark themselves indelibly on your brain?

This week in Afghanistan, I had the pleasure of giving 12 girls in Kabul their first bike.

First up was a visit to bazaar in the old part of Kabul to purchase some bikes that the girls could ride easily and that wouldn’t stand out – more than a girl riding a bike already does in a country that has never allowed females to ride bikes.

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We pick up a fleet of the same bike in different colors.  We had the bike mechanic that worked with us to build up the donated Liv/giant racing bikes check them over and make sure everything was in working order.  Delivered them to Coach’s house and asked the girls to meet up for a team meeting.

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We handed out the bikes to huge smiles and laughter.  The girls have loved riding the new racing bikes and training, but none of them have ever had their own bike.  Each girl has assured us that they have a male family member that have agreed to ride with them as an escort, most cases a brother, but also a father and a step-son.  These girls are among the first Afghan girls to be riding bikes in Kabul socially.  Its the start of a revolution.  Girls on bikes.  Breaking the last big gender taboo.  We couldn’t be prouder.  Ride on ladies.

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Bikes Not Burqas

“It’s time to stop referring to Afghan women as weak, as helpless.  Its time to refer to Afghan women as strong, catalysts for change.  How can we expect Afghan women to fight if we continue to label them as victims?”  I said these words at my first TEDx talk two years ago – 9 months before I first met the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  I had been working in Afghanistan and was enraged by the way we continue to look at Afghan women, and women like them around the world, as helpless victims that are in need of the West’s support.  These are not victims, although they may be victimized.  These are women of strength and resiliency that need tools, encouragements, and the outlets to use their voice.  2  1/2 years later, the young women I work with in Afghanistan show me every day they are not helpless, they are brave, strong, and fearless.  They simply need tools.  Or in this case, bikes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The young women of the Afghan National Cycling Team, and the young women around Afghanistan that are learning to ride bikes for the first time in their country’s history, did not grow up under a burqa.  They matured in the post Taliban decade.  They have taken advantage of opportunities in education, art, sport, and politics.  Many were refugees in Iran and Pakistan and returned here in 2002 and 2003 with their families.  Some stayed here and endured the Taliban’s regime.  Most are in their final years of high school or early years of university, a couple are married.  All are embracing the feeling of freedom that comes on two wheels. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA These women are the generation of Afghan women that are embracing new experiences, opportunities, without a specific intent of being revolutionary.   They know what they are doing is controversial, but they believe it is their right, that they deserve the same access and opportunities as men, and riding a bike should not be forbidden because of their gender. I believe sport is a natural gateway to social change.  As these women race and bring national pride to themselves, their families, and to Afghanistan, they are opening the door to allowing girls to ride bikes socially, as transportation.  Increasing access to school or work, protecting their safety, and improving their health.  Creating social justice and gender equality on two wheels. IMG_4339 This year we went one step beyond the team’s support.  I spent a morning at the old bazaar to buy bikes for each of the girls to keep at home.  Their first ever bike.  Do you remember your first bike?  The joy and the freedom you felt riding it?  Young women are now teaching other young women to ride, and several ride their bikes as transportation in Kabul.  The first Afghan women to ever do so.  Crossing the bridge from sport to social independence. IMG_4477 Every day I worry about these young women.  Not just on the bike, but off.  They are on the front line in a gender and cultural war and yet, if they are willing to ride, to go to school, and to believe in a brighter future, I will do everything I can to support them.  On and off the bike.  Will you?  The support of the team has been minimal and it’s time to step up.  It’s time to support the women that are changing the future of their country one pedal stroke at a time.  We need to get them a minibus and bike rack to safely travel to and from training.  We need to support with stipends the national team so that they don’t have to quit the team to help support their families.  We need to support their racing and travel.  We need to pay for coaching training to build the internal infrastructure for the team to grow and flourish and compete ahead of the 2020 Olympics and future Asia Games.  We also need to continue to support the mens’ team so that they will mentor and support the women’s team and build both teams under the cycling federation as brothers and sisters. More importantly, we need to support the young women that are riding outside of the team – women who are using the bike to get to and from school, or to simply ride with their girlfriends on the streets.  Using the bike to literally take back the streets and their rights. Please help these women pedal a revolution.  Believe that social change can occur one pedal stroke at a time.  Know that these women, and women like them, are the future and their fearlessness needs our support.  Tashakur. Donate today. www.mountain2mountain.org/donation    photo credits: Top three – Deni Bechard Bottom two – Shannon Galpin

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Cycling 101 – Training Day in Kabul

While I spent my first few days back in Afghanistan sorting out the bike delivery logistics from Kabul Airport Custom House, I took a day off to train with some of my favorite ladies, the women of the Afghan National Cycling Team.  Coach showed up with his usual assortment of steel bikes stacked on top of his Land Rover and to my surprise had lovingly packed three of the composite racing bikes I had brought last spring between layers of carpet.  This team needs a minibus something fierce!

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Several new riders showed up including a trio of sisters driven by their brother because Coach’s car was full.  As per usual when I now join, Coach handed off coaching duties to me, which I find comical as I am a mountain biker, not a roadie, nor a racer, but my previous life as a sports trainer and my general knowledge of cycling and coaching, coupled with the base level these girls are riding at, means I seem to have some knowledge to impart.  This ride?  The peloton.  How to ride in a pack and not knock each other over like a row of dominos.  How to ride wheel to wheel without running over the girl in front of you by mistake.

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And after some warm up laps, the girls started to get the hang of it and I learned a few new Dari phrases like;  ‘Nazdeek bosh’ – stay close together. ‘Dar buchoo’ – turn around.  And my favorite, shouted loudly and often, ‘Takar nako’, DON”T CRASH.

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Lesson One = Success.

Lesson Two = ‘How to Corner’ coming up next.

photos by Deni Bechard.  You can follow Deni on instagram at @denibechard

 

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