Afghan women’s championship in Switzerland, a message for the world

ciclismo campiono afgano

*Translated by Sara Pasino

Women’s cycling competitions in Afghanistan stopped over a year ago. Since the Taliban regime came to power in August 2021, no woman has been allowed to practice sports, go to work or attend school. The exodus of Afghan women athletes was the largest in the history of sport. Hundreds of athletes found refuge in different countries of the world.

On October 23 in Switzerland, thanks to an incredible work of the International Cycling Union, those athletes returned to ride together in the Women’s Road Cycling Championships in Afghanistan, which took place in Aigle, town where the World Cycling Federation is based.

There were 49 cyclists at the start of Sunday’s race: from Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and Singapore they arrived in Aigle to race together. It was a competitive race with a winner, but the message that the UCI wanted to send organising this race is another: sport is a right for everyone and there must be no differences between men and women.

Each of the 49 athletes has a different story, but finally the suffering turned into joy. The protagonists are those women who were forced to flee Afghanistan to return to reclaim their freedom.

Masomah Ali Zada, the 26-year-old Hazara, who became the first Afghan woman cyclist to participate in the Olympic Games wearing the jersey of the refugee team created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for Tokyo 2020. Masomah Ali Zada left Afghanistan in 2017, threatened because she was cycling. She found refuge in France and wrote a book to tell her story: in July this year she was elected to the IOC Athletes Commission and she became an example for all Afghan. At the starting line there will be many athletes who managed to get back on the bike before the others and who have already been able to participate in the Asian Championships and the first Gravel World Championship.

An important contribution to the Afghan cause came thanks to Sylvan Adams, Israel Premier Tech and IsraAid, who from 2021 has managed to rescue several hundred people.

For example, 165 Afghans managed to get to Switzerland thanks to Adams and Israaid, that fully covered their expenses. But their generosity has gone further, because thanks to their support another group linked to the world of sport, about 100 people, has managed to find shelter in Israel, Dubai and Canada.

The last group of Afghans rescued by Adams arrived in Italy – precisely in L’Aquila – last July 27 thanks to the humanitarian corridor opened by the Foreign Ministry with the FCEI. Among them there were 70 people related to the world of cycling, including 30 female cyclists and 7 men who were part of the men’s cycling national team.

There are 15 girls left from L’Aquila to reach Aigle, supported by Adams, UCI and UEC and who have become part of the Adams project “Racing for Change”, through which Afghan cyclists will be supported in sport, but also in paths created to ensure education and the inclusion in working environments always linked to the world of sport.

Thanks to the project “Racing for Change”, also supported by the Italian entrepreneur Valentino Sciotti, who is personally helping the Afghan cyclists who arrived in Abruzzo, a new cycling centre was born in Rwanda. In the district of Bugesera, not far from where one of the most brutal massacres in the history of humanity took place, the largest cycling centre in Africa is being built. There, thousands of cyclists between 6 and 23 years old can practice cycling, with particular attention to the female sector.

In Aigle, as we said, there were 49 athletes in the race: unfortunately some girls have not managed to get to Switzerland because of the distance and the long process related to the application for political asylum. But the UCI has guaranteed that the event on October 23 will not be the only event created for Afghan cyclists.

The largest group came from Italy: in addition to the 15 cyclists of L’Aquila, there were 5 girls in our country who are back to race thanks to the Valcar – Travel & Cervice and the Breganze Millennium.

The 49 cyclists arrived from all over the world and they wore the same shirt, to emphasise the belonging to a single country, Afghanistan, and to remember that in sport all athletes are equal, without distinction of color, sex or religion.

The race began at 9:30 am, starting and finishing at the UCI World Cycling Center (WCC), the UCI’s high-level education and training centre created in Aigle. The girls competed on a route consisting of two laps of a 28.5 km circuit with a difference in altitude of 72 m (total: 57 km with a difference in altitude of 144 m). The group crossed the communities of Aigle, Yvorne, Rennaz and Vouvry in the Chablais region, in the heart of Vaud.

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Afghan women championship cycling – MALPENSA24