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Zargunna Noori has always been a fighter, but the 22-year-old taekwondo champion – who dreamed of representing Afghanistan at the Olympics – says she has finally found her match.

“In sport, when we lose we feel bad,” she told AFP from her home in the western town of Herat.

“And now we have been defeated by the Taliban.”

The all-male Taliban government shut down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with one that became known for applying religious doctrine during the extremists’ come to power from 1996 to 2001.

Although they have yet to release a formal policy on women in sport, the Taliban have made comments that indicate serious participation will be impossible.

As women and girls are already effectively banned from work and school, the fear of reprisals for practicing sport is widespread.

“All of our lives have been turned upside down,” said Noori, who since joining her provincial team ten years ago has become a star of the national academy, winning an Afghan title in 2018.

“Every member of the national taekwondo team dreamed that one day we would go to the Olympics and hoist the Afghan flag in other countries, in international competitions,” she said, surrounded by her medals. and a gold trophy engraved ‘Best leader’.

“But now we are all forced to stay at home and are getting more and more depressed with each passing day.”

Taekwondo’s popularity surged in Afghanistan in 2008 after local hero Rohullah Nikpai won bronze at the Beijing Olympics.

Zakia Khudadadi, 22, gave Afghans yet another reason to watch Korean martial art last month when she competed in the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

– Sport ‘not necessary’ –

In Afghanistan, women have long faced open hostility to their involvement in sport and in rural areas it is extremely rare for them to participate.

Even in cities, many women’s leagues are in their infancy.

About 130 girls and women between the ages of 12 and 25 are members of a taekwondo hall in Herat, but they are currently not allowed to train and their ability to do so in the future looks bleak.

The country’s new sports chief Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai last week said the Taliban would allow around 400 sports – but declined to say whether women could participate in any of them.

Ahmadullah Wasiq of the Taliban Culture Commission also sounded the alarm this month by saying that it was “not necessary” for women to play sports.

But the regime is under pressure: banning women from participating is likely to end recognition and funding of international sports bodies, including support for its popular cricket and football teams.

– Desperate to train –

For Noori, a fourth-year physical education student at Kabul University, the Taliban’s draconian interpretation of sharia is personal.

“Every woman in Afghanistan dreamed of being able to progress and reach a better place in the future,” she said, alongside seven other members of the national taekwondo academy.

“They all wanted to be role models… to show the world how far we can get.

“We all acted and practiced and did our best, but it didn’t work out – everything.”

Noori said that many young taekwondo athletes are now in hiding and when they leave their homes they cover themselves from head to toe with a burqa.

The athlete is desperate to resume training, she said, so that “ten years of hard work is not wasted”, but now she feels she will be forced to leave Afghanistan.

“No one who lives in their own country ever wants to leave it,” she told AFP.

“But the conditions are such that we don’t see common ground that will allow us to move forward; it doesn’t exist in the country. “

– ‘Help us’ –

Noori called on the global sports community to help him, because “if we raise our own voices in Afghanistan our voices will be cut.”

“We ask all international athletes, Olympic athletes and members of the Olympic Committee to help us so that we can get to a better place, even if it means going to another country to continue our activities,” she said. .

Zahra, 22, another member of the national team, also feels “helpless”.

“Even men do not have all their freedoms,” she said, adding that the Taliban were “the same Taliban of the past.”

“Just as men are allowed to study, women should also be allowed to do so. They should not obstruct the path of girls and women. “

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