Australia-based sprinter ‘honoured’ to represent oppressed women after making Afghan Olympic team – The Guardian

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Afghanistan’s Olympic flag bearer at the Tokyo Olympics has said she represents “the stolen dreams and aspirations” of women who have suffered under Taliban rule after winning selection for the Paris Games from her new home in Australia.

Sprinter Kimia Yousofi was one of five athletes and administrators who escaped from Afghanistan in 2022 and received safe passage to Australia after the Taliban took control of her homeland.

The 28-year-old has been selected to appear at her third Games by the Afghanistan Olympic Committee, which operates outside the country. She said it was “an honour” to represent the girls and women of Afghanistan “who have been deprived of basic rights, including education, which is the most important one”.

She said she hoped to represent those women “who don’t have the authority to make decisions as free human beings”.

“They don’t even have the permission to enter a park,” she said.

President of the Afghanistan Olympic Committee, Dr Yonus Popalzay, said the team will send three women to a Games for the first time, alongside three men. “We highly appreciate the Australian Olympics Committee for the support extended to Kimia Yousofi. On behalf of the Afghanistan Olympic Committee please convey our message of gratitude and appreciation to Australian nation and government for support to Afghanistan in a difficult time,” he said.

The Taliban has reportedly refused to recognise the team. “Only three athletes are representing Afghanistan,” Atal Mashwani, the spokesman of the Taliban government’s sports directorate, told AFP, referring to the male competitors.

Yousofi will race in the 100m in Paris. She is not expected to progress past the heats, but her Australian coach John Quinn says the sprinter has been an inspiration to her training partners. “On the track she has improved enormously technically since coming here and she has a great squad around her. But when you consider everything else she has had to juggle – training, a new language, getting her family here, all those things, she has been amazing.”

AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said Yousofi’s relocation to Australia and appearance in Paris has been made possible by bipartisan support in federal politics. “Her story is one of inspiration for women and girls in Afghanistan and anywhere in the world, who are denied basic rights, including the right to freely practice sport.”

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Australia’s cricket team withdrew from a series against Afghanistan this year over concerns that conditions for women and girls in the country were deteriorating. A group of Afghan women’s cricketers based in Australia have been unsuccessful in lobbying the International Cricket Council to form a refugee team. The men’s Afghanistan team reached the semi-finals of last month’s T20 World Cup in North America.

The Paris Games will feature a 37-member Refugee Olympic Team representing more than 100 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

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