Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Mahbooba Ahadgar is a rather incredible women when you think about it. Ahadgar is the only women from Afghanistan who has been scheduled to be in this years Beijing Olympics.

Recently, she disappeared while training in Italy but has now resurfaced alive and well and afraid.

According to Spiegel International, Ahadgar phoned her parents, who live in a poor section of Kabul, and told them she is seeking political asylum in Norway due to death threats spread by extremists who disapprove of women taking part in sports.

"When I was in Kabul, I received many anonymous phone calls from people who threatened me and told me not to compete in sports. Even some of our neighbors have harassed me about it," Ahadgar said not too long ago, but before she took off.

Indeed,in her own country her activities have courted daily taunts, including death threats...even though she was proud of her Muslim religion, and determined to run in Beijing in a headscarf and a tracksuit.

Ahadgar wasn't a wild eyed commie or anything.

“Apart from running," Ahadgar told the London Times recently, "I just help out at home due to our family background, which requires me to take care of the house properly, as a woman. I need to change this concept and I presume my country will accept and adhere to it. I’m the model for my country, being a woman in a typical Muslim nation. 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, and this will help to develop a better managed sports country.”

But that wasn't to be for this young Afghani women.

Follwoing her disappearance, the head of the Afghan Olympic Federation reportedly threatened to throw her family in jail if she did not return to Afghanistan.

Let's hope it was a bluff, but in Afghanistan who can be sure?

Mahbooba Ahadgar was not likely to win any medals in Beijing. She isn't really in that class.

But so what.

"Her role," wrote Peter Popham in the Independnet (UK), "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."

That would have been enough.

But in Afghanistan today (as yesterday and the day before that and...) that was, perhaps, asking too much.

Popham writes, "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."

Can't imagine why she decided to hit the road.

The following is from the London Times.

Fears ease after missing Afghan athlete found

Mahbooba Ahadgar, who was the only Afghan female scheduled to be competing in the Beijing Olympic Games next month, has resurfaced after going missing in Italy last week and is en route to Norway, where she will be seeking asylum.

When Ahadgar could not be found at her training camp in Formia on Thursday, there were fears that her disappearance may have been linked to a series of death threats that she had received at home from Muslim extremists, who are opposed to the concept of a woman running in the Olympics.

However, concerns for her family's safety are not over because, since Ahadgar's mysterious disappearance, her parents have been under so much pressure from the Afghan Olympic Committee in Kabul to get their daughter back into her spikes that they have been threatened with imprisonment. Her parents, though, were also in the dark as to her whereabouts until she phoned them on Tuesday.

While her safety is a relief within Olympic circles, her decision to go into hiding a month before the Games is a galling blow because, as an Afghan woman who is proud of her athleticism and her Muslim religion, she became a poster girl for the Games. Ahadgar had been on a scholarship from the Olympic Solidarity programme, which financed training camps in Kuala Lumpur and Italy, even though her running times in her event, the 1,500 metres, meant that she would struggle to finish within a minute of the winners.

Ahadgar is not the first Olympic Solidarity scholar to seek asylum in this way. Two Bangladeshi athletes also vanished last year and a runner from Gabon did the same in 2001.

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