Afghanistan: taekwondo champions knocked out against the Taliban

Zarghunna Noori is a fighter. This 22-year-old taekwondo champion had the ambition to represent Afghanistan at the Olympic Games in Paris. But since the Taliban came to power, who seem determined to ban women from sport, she feels defeated.

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«All our lives have been turned upside down, ”she laments, interviewed by AFP at her home in Herat, the capital of western Afghanistan. “In sport, when we lose, we feel terribly bad,” she analyzes. “There we were defeated by the Taliban government.”

Zarghunna Noori is a star of the Afghan academy. She won a national title in 2018, and now coaches the Herat-based women’s team.

“Every member of the taekwondo team dreamed that one day we would participate in the Olympics, or that we would hoist the Afghan flag in international competitions,” she recalls, surrounded by her medals. “But now we all have to stay at home. Every day we get more depressed. ”

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, where fighters punch and kick their opponents. In 2008, Rohullah Nikpai gave Afghanistan the first-ever Olympic medal in its history by winning bronze in Beijing for men.

About 130 girls, aged 12 to 25, are members of the Afghan academy located in Herat. They are no longer allowed to train, they tell AFP.

Last week, the new Afghan sports and physical education director, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, declared that the Taliban would allow “400 sports”. But he declined to say if women could practice just one.

While the Islamists practiced strict segregation of women between 1996 and 2001, effectively excluding them from any sporting activity, they have tried to present a more moderate face to the international community since they took power in mid-August.

Women’s sport “not necessary”

Their government seems to have registered the return to school of middle school and high school girls, who were deprived of schooling during their first reign. But the outlook looks bleak for women’s sport.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, member of the Taliban Cultural Commission, recently felt that it was “not necessary” for women to play sports. Sharia, Islamic law, according to fundamentalists excludes co-education and obliges women to conceal their forms.

“We all trained and did our best. But it was all for nothing, ”laments Zarghunna Noori, who is studying in the fourth year of a physical education course at the University of Kabul.

Many sportswomen hide in their homes for fear of possible reprisals from the Taliban, she says. When they do end up going out, they drape themselves in a burqa, and can’t even wear sneakers, she continues.

The former champion of Afghanistan, however, wants to resume training, so that “ten years of hard work are not wasted.” Although she thinks she will be forced to leave Afghanistan: “The conditions are such that we do not see how to progress in the country.”

Zarghunna Noori thus calls for help “all international and Olympic athletes and members of the Olympic Committee” so that they help her sisters and herself to “go to a better place, even outside the country”.

Zahra, 22, another member of the national taekwondo team, also feels “helpless”.

All her teammates, regardless of their gender, are unhappy with the Taliban coming to power, she told AFP. “Even men do not have all their freedoms”, regrets Zahra, for whom the Taliban are “the same as in the past”. “They should not hinder the path of girls and women.”

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