By Akhtar M. Nikzad
A decade ago it was a dream of Afghan girls to appear in the international tournaments and compete for titles, but now the situation has been changed. Today, women and girls do not stay under obscure ceiling of the rooms but they have seen many changes and gained several achievements. They are striving hard to wave the country’s flag at international playgrounds.
Female athletes have no access to sufficient sport facilities as compared to the sportswomen of other countries, but despite that they had considerably excelled in sport fields, though the girls are still facing different problems including social and cultural restrictions. They are scrimmaging with taboos that forced their family to restrict daughters to the boundary-walls of home.
Here is a taekwondo gymnasium in Kabul City where a group of young girls practice taekwondo under supervision of a male coach Farid Ahmad Sidiqi. Silence in the main practice hall breaks suddenly when they shout unfamiliar words. When this scribe visited the club, they were wearing white dress with different color belts, indicating their proficiency level, running in circle around their coach to begin practicing a new technique that would help them to outshine their rivals.
Nila Ahmadi, a member of the Afghanistan National Taekwondo Federation (ANTF), said that participation of girls in the sport is marred by various challenges such as social and financial as well as restrictions from family side.
“In childhood I was used to watch marital art films on television and I wished that someday I can really be a good athlete in the country. I think I am about to turn my dream intro reality. Practicing taekwondo with other skilled female athletes at a playground to get ready for international matches was my dream,” he said.
Nila joined a taekwondo club in Kabul City when she was nine-year old. For last ten years she is practicing as member of the female taekwondo team. However Nila hears the unfavorable words from street boys but she does not care as she thinks a female athlete should show patience if she wants to achieve her goals.
She said that girls were encouraged by the democratic girls and now there are a lot of private clubs in Kabul City which provide safe environment and facilities to sportswomen. Girls an join private clubs if they wish to become member of the taekwondo federation.
Nila pointed out that adequate facilitates are provided by the federation, but what is very necessary for athletes is recruitment of women coach to train girls. She said there is a lot of new tactics in the sport field that should to be grasped.
Lack of woman coach is indeed an issue because the girls couldn’t get high score in some international matches when they went on foreign tours. They realized that there are many new tactics that they should learn to defeat the opponents.
Nila is a hardworking athlete as she has brought five medals—three bronzes and two silvers—from Sri Lanka, South Korea, Iran and Vietnam. She said that though female athletes entered into different sport fields with a bunch of difficulties and brought medals and glory to the country but the government never encouraged the girls. “Sometimes businessmen promised via media that they will cooperate with the sportsmen who can bring medal to the country after competition. However, when we do so there is nothing. Businessmen make such promises to earn reputation but never remain honest,” she lamented.
In a bid to have income source and promote the sport, Nila Ahmadi established a private club only for females so they could exercise taekwondo in safe environment. She trains daily more than 20 female athletes in her club.
Zohra Nabizad, another female taekwondo player who joined the national team three years ago, said that she was selected as best fighter in all matches between young team and now she is getting ready for international matches. Zohra also opened a taekwondo club to promote the sport. So far she encouraged around 25 girls.
Regarding the sport status for women in the country, she said that majority of people has changed their viewpoints regarding participation of girls in sports. However, some restrictions are still there because girls have no right to exercise like men at the playgrounds.
“Unfortunately, in our country some people do not think about healthy aspects of the sport. Those people who came to register themselves in my club are educated or returnees. Therefore, it is clear that still common people do not want to allow their daughters and sisters to become sportswomen,” she said. While encouraging girls to get into sports, she said that ‘health is wealth’.
Tamana Frotan, another taekwondo player who is in this sport field for last seven years but facing restrictions from family side, said that when she was a teenager her parents permitted her to carry on the sport but now she is growing so her parents do not allow her to continue.
Chief of the ANTF, Ghulam Rabani, said that number of the female taekwondo players has plummet in the last five years due to lack of effective programs. Majority of them left the federation. Rabani said the federation is determined to organize tournaments at national level for girls to choose the best fighters for international competitions.
Responding to a question regarding recruitment of female couch, he said that still it is difficult to select a female athlete as trainer because the current players could not meet the criteria. On the other hand foreigners are not ready to land in Afghanistan due to some security challenges.
There are around 100 private taekwondo clubs in Kabul City. There are 50 female taekwondo players in the country who are part of the different teams.