Malika Yousufi lined her bike up alongside her teammates on a lonely road outside the Afghan capital, getting ready for her weekly training ride away from the disapproving stares of Kabul.
She is part of Afghanistan’s women’s national cycling team, a group breaking new ground for women’s sports in Afghanistan and pushing the boundaries of what is – and is not – acceptable for young women in the conservative Muslim country. Under the Taliban in the 1990s, women in Afghanistan were excluded from public life, banned from going to school or stepping outside their home without a male family member. While Afghanistan’s national men’s cricket and football teams have enjoyed the spotlight, women’s sports have made more halting progress, with athletes facing family pressure and patchy public support.
Last year the women’s cricket team was quietly dissolved amid Taliban threats and a shortage of players. The women’s cycling team is pushing ahead, despite not having been paid for several months, a problem for many Afghan athletes. To go training, team members pile their bikes in cars and drive outside the capital, where their uniform of loose-fitting tops and long pants won’t draw stares.
But drivers sometimes shout profanities at them, and their captain has a back injury from a crash after a man on a motorbike reached out to grab her. She said she was still determined to be the first Afghan woman to compete in the Tour de France. “Nothing will stop us,” she said. ReutersReuse content