Afghan woman athlete a refugee, not an Olympian

11 July 2008.

In George W. Bush’s ‘new’ Afghanistan, the bloody occupation and war are going on. For the people, things are as bad as, sometimes even worse than, under the Taliban (like Al Qaeda, supported by the United States government originally).

That includes Afghan women. Corporate media highlight to their Western audiences a few individual women whose situation has improved, while keeping silent on the mass of women whose situation has not, or has worsened.

Now, one young Afghan woman has refused to play the role of puppet of the tokenism of politicians and media.

Mehbooba Andyar

This is a photo of Mehbooba Andyar [called Ahadgar in other reports] who had been training on an Olympic scholarship outside of Afghanistan. Then, she disappeared.

From British daily The Independent:

Afghan Olympic athlete does a runner from Italy

By Peter Popham in Rome

Friday, 11 July 2008

Mahbooba Ahadgar was never going to win any medals in Beijing – her best times in the 800m and 1,500m events were so slow it was likely she would have finished a minute or more behind the winners. As an Olympic Solidarity scholar, her role was to bring the lustre of women’s athletic prowess to her war-torn country, and prove that the Olympic ideal can shine brightly even in Kabul.

Instead it looks as if Ms Ahadgar is not going to be present at all. Afghanistan’s only woman contender in the Olympics has done a runner.

Ms Ahadgar herself brought the uncertainty to an end when she phoned her family in a poor quarter of Kabul to tell them that she was on her way to claim political asylum in Norway. …

For Ms Ahadgar’s poor, working class family – her father is a carpenter and she has eight siblings – the transformation of their daughter into an Olympic poster girl was a challenge. …

She chose to train in a headscarf and tracksuit to avoid being criticised for immodesty, and timed her runs for the evening when most Kabulis are at home watching their favourite soap opera. But when foreign journalists came calling at the family home to interview her, neighbours phoned the police and reported that she was receiving men as a prostitute. Her father was briefly thrown in jail until the confusion was cleared up.

When she spoke to the press, it was clear that Olympic Solidarity had coached her well. “I’m the model for my country, being a woman in a typical Muslim nation,” she said in a recent interview. “I’m very proud to say that I will be participating in the Olympic Games. By virtue of these opportunities, many women from my country are participating in many sports,

Really? Then, why will those women not be at the Beijing Olympics, if for Afghan women finishing a minute or more after the winners seems to be good enough?

and this will help to develop a better managed country.” …

But there was always a lively possibility that she would seize the opportunity presented by her Schengen visa to escape from the grinding poverty of Afghanistan for good. There are plenty of precedents. Many Ethiopian runners have failed to return home after being picked to compete for their poverty-stricken country. Some of them ended up running for Britain. To try to dissuade Ms Ahadgar from vanishing, the head of the Afghan Olympic Federation reportedly threatened to throw her family in jail if she did not return to Afghanistan. Now she has called his bluff.

Four years ago in Athens, Afghani women competed in the Olympics for the first time ever when Robina Muqimyar ran the 100m and Friba Rezihi competed in judo. This year, however, unless Mahbooba Ahadgar has an extraordinary change of heart, her fundamentalist countrymen will have no reason to curse her name; while the outside world will have one less cause to hope that Afghanistan is finally on the move.

“the head of the Afghan Olympic Federation reportedly threatened to throw her family in jail if she did not return to Afghanistan” …

If this would have been reported (truly or falsely) about a Cuban athlete, who, unlike Ms Ahadgar, very likely would not have “finished a minute or more behind the winners”, then it would have been all over the big media headlines, especially in the USA.

Afghanistan being George W. Bush’s ‘new’ Afghanistan, however, I did not manage to find United States corporate media mentioning this. I just found this, from CBC in Canada:

Despite the fact that she is far from being an Olympic favourite, the head of the Afghan Olympic Federation has threatened to throw her family in jail, or worse, if Ahadgar doesn’t return.

The runner who once wanted to bring glory to her country is now running for her life.

7 thoughts on “Afghan woman athlete a refugee, not an Olympian

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