Afghan women athletes barred from play, fear Taliban threats

Jan 10, 2023, 8:14 AM | Updated: Jan 11, 2023, 5:30 pm
Afghan woman boxer poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Tal...

Afghan woman boxer poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

              Afghan woman boxer poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman poses for a photo with her bicycle in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan women's soccer team poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              Afghan woman boxer poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman poses for a photo with her bicycle in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan women's soccer team poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan girl who practices taekwondo poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan volleyball player poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              Afghan woman boxer poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman who practices Muay Tha, or Thai boxing, poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              Afghan mixed martial arts fighter poses for a photo with her trophies in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman poses for a photo with her cricket bat in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan girl poses with her skateboard in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman poses for a photo with her bicycle in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman who practices Muay Tha, or Thai boxing, poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              Afghan women who practice Muay Tha, or Thai boxing, pose for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman poses with a basketball in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan woman who practices jiujitsu, a Japanese martial art, poses with a sledgehammer she uses for strength exercises in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan women's soccer team poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
            
              An Afghan women's soccer team poses for a photo in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. The ruling Taliban have banned women from sports as well as barring them from most schooling and many realms of work. A number of women posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. Though they do not necessarily wear the burqa in regular life, they chose to hide their identities with their burqas because they fear Taliban reprisals and because some of them continue to practice their sports in secret. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Noura’s determination to play sports was so great that she defied her family’s opposition for years. Beatings from her mother and jeers from her neighbors never stopped her from the sports she loved.

But the 20-year-old Afghan woman could not defy her country’s Taliban rulers. They have not just banned all sports for women and girls, they have actively intimidated and harassed those who once played, often scaring them from even practicing in private, Noura and other women say.

Noura has been left shattered. “I’m not the same person anymore,” she said. “Since the Taliban came, I feel like I’m dead.”

A number of girls and women who once played a variety of sports told The Associated Press they have been intimidated by the Taliban with visits and phone calls warning them not to engage in their sports. The women and girls spoke on condition of anonymity for fear they will face further threats.

They posed for an AP photographer for portraits with the equipment of the sports they loved. They hid their identities with burqas, the all-encompassing robes and hood that completely cover the face, leaving only a mesh to see through. They didn’t normally wear the burqa, but they said they sometimes do now when they go outside and want to remain anonymous and avoid harassment.

The ban on sports is part of the Taliban’s escalating campaign of restrictions that have shut down life for girls and women.

Since their takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban have barred girls from attending middle and high school. Last month, they ordered all women thrown out of universities as well.

The Taliban require women to cover their hair and faces in public and prohibit them from going to parks or gyms. They have severely limited women’s ability to work outside the home and most recently forbade non-governmental organizations from employing women, a step that could cripple the vital flow of aid.

Even before the Taliban, women’s sports were opposed by many in Afghanistan’s deeply conservative society, seen as a violation of women’s modesty and of their role in society. Still, the previous, internationally-backed government had programs encouraging women’s sports and school clubs, leagues and national teams for women in many sports.

A 20-year-old mixed martial artist recalled how in August 2021, she was competing in a local women’s tournament at a Kabul sports hall. Word spread through the audience and participants that the advancing Taliban were on the city’s outskirts. All the women and girls fled the hall. It was the last competition the young athlete ever played in.

Months later, she said she tried to give private lessons for girls. But Taliban fighters raided the gym where they were practicing and arrested them all. In detention, the girls were humiliated and mocked, she said. After mediation by elders, they were released after promising not to practice sports anymore.

She still practices at home and sometimes teaches her close friends.

“Life has become very difficult for me, but I am a fighter, so I will continue to live and fight,” she said.

Mushwanay, spokesman of the Taliban’s Sports Organization and National Olympic Committee, said authorities were looking for a way to restart sports for women by building separate sports venues. But he gave no time frame and said funds were needed to do so. Taliban authorities have repeatedly made similar promises to allow girls 7th grade and up to return to school, but still have not done so.

Noura faced resistance her whole life as she tried to play sports.

Raised in a poor Kabul district by parents who migrated from the provinces, Noura started out playing soccer alongside local boys in the street. When she was nine, a coach spotted her and, at his encouragement, she joined a girls’ youth team.

She kept it a secret from everyone but her father, but her cover was blown by her own talent. At 13, she was named the best girl soccer player in her age group, and her photo and name were broadcast on television.

“All over the world, when a girl becomes famous and her picture is shown on TV, it’s a good day for her and she’s at the peak of happiness,” she said. “For me, that day was very bitter and the beginning of worse days.”

Furious, her mother beat her, shouting that she was not allowed to play soccer. She kept playing in secret but was exposed again when her team won a national championship, and her photo was in the news. Again, her mother beat her.

Still, she sneaked off to the award ceremony. She broke down in tears on stage as the audience cheered. “Only I knew I was crying because of loneliness and the hard life I had,” she said.

When she found out, her mother set fire to her soccer uniform and shoes.

Noura gave up soccer, but then turned to boxing. Her mother eventually relented, realizing she couldn’t stop her from sports, she said.

The day the Taliban entered Kabul, she said, her coach called her mother and said Noura should go to the airport to be taken out of the country. Noura said her mother didn’t deliver the message because she didn’t want her to leave. When she learned of the message–too late to escape–Noura said she cut her wrists and had to be taken to the hospital.

“The world had become dark for me,” she said.

Three months later, someone who identified himself as a member of the Taliban called the family and threatened her. “They were saying, why did you play sports? Sports are forbidden,” she recalled.

Terrified, she left Kabul, disguising herself in her burqa to travel to her family’s hometown. Eventually, she returned but remains in fear.

“Even if my life was difficult, I used to have confidence in myself and knew that, with effort, I could do what I wanted,” she said. “Now I don’t have much hope anymore.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, dribbles around Golden State Warriors forward An...
Associated Press

Lillard has triple-double, Blazers beat Warriors 125-122

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard had 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds as the Portland Trail Blazers rallied past the Golden State Warriors 125-122 on Wednesday night. It was just the second triple-double of Lillard’s career, and first this season. “I didn’t shoot the ball very well. But I think I approached the […]
23 hours ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving smiles as he warms up prior to an NBA basketball game against t...
Associated Press

Irving scores 24 in Dallas debut, leads Mavs over Clippers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kyrie Irving came out charging in his Dallas debut, keying a big run to open the game and sparking his new teammates in front of a cheering Luka Doncic on the bench. Irving scored 24 points and the Mavericks never trailed in beating the Los Angeles Clippers 110-104 on Wednesday night. […]
23 hours ago
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) goes to the basket as Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McD...
Associated Press

T’wolves top Jazz in matchup of teams trading with Lakers

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Anthony Edwards scored 31 points and Jaylen Nowell added a career-high 30 to lead Minnesota to a 143-118 win over Utah on Wednesday night amid word the Timberwolves, Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers were part of an eight-player swap hours ahead of the NBA trade deadline. “It was crazy, the […]
23 hours ago
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) is congratulated after scoring during the second period of t...
Associated Press

Benn breaks scoreless tie early in 2nd, Stars top Wild 4-1

DALLAS (AP) — Captain Jamie Benn broke a scoreless tie 23 seconds into the second period of his 1,001st career game, and the Dallas Stars beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 on Wednesday night. Benn’s 20th goal on a perfect feed from 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston started a three-goal second for the Western Conference-leading Stars. Radek […]
23 hours ago
Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (4) signals after making a 3-point shot, next to Sacramento Kings...
Associated Press

Fox’s late FTs gives Kings 130-128 win over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) — De’Aaron Fox had 31 points, including three free throws with less than a second left, to lift the Sacramento Kings to a 130-128 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. Fox missed a 3-pointer with .3 seconds left. But Eric Gordon fouled him to set up the game-winning free throws. “I […]
23 hours ago
Vancouver Canucks' Vasily Podkolzin (92) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the ...
Associated Press

Kreider, Chytil lead Rangers to 4-3 win over Canucks

NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Kreider and Filip Chytil got New York off to a strong start in the first period and the Rangers held on to beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 on Wednesday night for their third straight win. Alexis Lafreniere and Mika Zibanejad also scored for the Rangers, who have won four straight […]
23 hours ago
Afghan women athletes barred from play, fear Taliban threats