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Afghans at the Olympics

After missing the 2000 games entirely, Afghanistan has produced a squad that includes women for the first time.
By Mohammad Jawad

Three months ago, as five Afghan athletes set off to begin their training, Said Mahmoud Zia Dashti, the deputy director of the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee, promised that “there will be happiness for our people to see our flag in the Olympic Games”.

His prediction proved correct, as the five-member team was greeted with enthusiastic cheers as they entered the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremonies in Athens. Some in the stands were even waving Afghan flags.

According to the Afghan daily Anis, President Hamed Karzai said in a statement this week that "it gives me immense pleasure to see Afghan sportspersons participating in the Olympics. The participation of female sportspersons in particular is cause for pride".

Afghan athletes last competed in the Olympic Games in 1996. Arif Paiman, director of programmes for the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee, said that International Olympic Committee prohibited the country from competing in the 2000 Games while the Taleban were in power.

And for the first time, female athletes are representing their country in the Games.

Here are brief profiles of Afghanistan’s Olympic athletes:

* Robina Muqim Yaar, 17, educated in Kabul, took part in the women’s 100 metres heat on August 20, but failed to qualify for the next round. She has been running the 100 metres on the national women’s team for the past two years and has competed abroad in Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

* Massoud Azizi, 20, from Kabul, is competing in the men’s 100 metres on August 21. A relative newcomer, he joined the national team in 2003. He finished first last year in a national competition in the 100 metres and has gained more experience in competitions in Pakistan, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

* Bashir Ahmad Rahmati, 19, from Parwan province, about an hour north of Kabul, will compete in the men’s freestyle wrestling competition in the 55-kilogram class on August 27. Rahmati, who has been wrestling since he was 10 years old, is the national champion.

* Friba Rezayee, 23, from Kabul, has the distinction of being the first female athlete from Afghanistan to take part in an Olympic competition. She lost her Judo match in the 70-kilogram weight class to Spaniard Cecilia Blanco. Rezayee has been competing in Judo for two years and has won various national and international competitions. After the match, she was quoted in a British newspaper as saying, through a flood of tears, "I am proud I was in the Olympic Games, although the world knows we are not as strong as other athletes. I tried my best but I couldn't do anything. Next time I'll win the competition."

* Basharmal Sultani, 20, a boxer, lost a first-round match in the 69-kilogram welterweight class to Mohammed Haikal from Egypt on August 15. Sultaini, who is national champion, began boxing when he was 16. He is currently a student in the literature department at Kabul University.

Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is a staff reporter for IWPR based in Kabul.

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