Marathon in Bamiyan a sym­bol of free­dom for Afghan women

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

BAMIYAN:

Fe­male ath­letes wear­ing head­scarves raced Fri­day against a back­drop of rus­set-hued moun­tains, more for the taste of free­dom than the feat of win­ning Bamiyan’s in­ter­na­tional marathon, Afghanistan’s only mixed-gen­der sport­ing event.

Brav­ing the au­tumn chill and de­fy­ing con­ven­tion, the 15 women-in­clud­ing six Afghans and an Ira­nian-rubbed shoul­ders with male ath­letes, start­ing the marathon at the base of cliffs that once shel­tered gi­ant Bud­dha stat­ues, blown up by the Taliban in 2001. They ran in flow­ing white shirts, but even these felt un­usu­ally free:

Nilo­far, a 21-year-old med­i­cal stu­dent from Mazar-i-Sharif, said she usu­ally trains in leg­gings and a dress that goes down past her knees.

“Run­ning gives me free­dom,” she said. More than 100 run­ners in to­tal, both Afghan and for­eigner, par­tic­i­pated in the marathon, a 42-kilo­me­tre loop that started and ended at the base of the world fa­mous Bud­dha caves.

The race, or­gan­ised for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year by two English­menJames Bing­ham and James Willcox-does not sim­ply rep­re­sent a rare sport­ing suc­cess in con­flict-torn Afghanistan.

It also stands as a metaphor of free­dom in a con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic coun­try where run­ning in public is widely seen as noth­ing short of a sub­ver­sive act for women. Bamiyan, perched in Afghanistan’s cen­tral high­lands, is a rare oa­sis of tran­quil­ity which has largely been spared the wrench­ing con­flict that af­flicts the rest of the coun­try.

It is a per­fect venue where ath­letes such as Nilo­far can run freely. “In Mazar-iSharif, I train in parks with per­mis­sion of the gover­nor who sup­ports us. I can­not run in the streets,” said Nilo­far. Other fe­male run­ners face sim­i­lar restric­tions, such as 18-year-old Sa­mana, who can nor­mally only run in her Kabul neigh­bour­hood before day­break when the area is se­cluded. But Nilo­far, who par­tic­i­pated in a race in Kabul in the sum­mer of 2015, re­calls be­ing ha­rassed there. “We were four girls, passers-by kept both­er­ing and ha­rass­ing us, and cars kept com­ing in our way. Women who run in public are deemed crazy,” she said. “For­tu­nately, two Afghan male run­ners came to our res­cue and stayed close to us.” The fe­male ath­letes faced no ha­rass­ment in Bamiyan-run­ning freely along a pic­turesque route as they passed by puz­zled but friendly farm­ers and live­stock oc­ca­sion­ally block­ing the way.

RUN­NING ‘FULL OF RISKS’

“Run­ning is full of risks-some­times we get beaten up. Peo­ple are not used to see­ing women run­ning, but I have to keep go­ing in or­der to pave the way for other women,” said Kubra, an­other young ath­lete from Kabul. “In about two or three years, peo­ple will get used to see­ing us women run­ning.” Kubra was en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate in the marathon by Cor­nelia Schneider from “Free To Run”, an or­gan­i­sa­tion which helps women and girls in con­flict-af­fected ar­eas. On the marathon trail, Kubra ran along­side Martin Par­nell, a Cana­dian star in his 60s well-known for record­break­ing feats in­clud­ing run­ning 250 marathons in one year. — AFP

BAMIYAN: Afghan run­ner Nilufer, 21, ges­tures as she speaks dur­ing in­ter­view with AFP ahead of a marathon. — AFP

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