Two young women who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover will make history next week when they represent the country at the UCI Cycling World Championships in Wales in the United Kingdom.
Mina, 22, and Arefa, 24, arrived in the UK in October last year after fleeing the country.
Speaking to Sky News, Arefa said she was excited about representing their country and they were doing so “for every Afghan girl that doesn’t have that opportunity.”
She said: “When the Taliban came to the country everything was banned for girls, every day, one more thing we couldn’t do.”
“It was difficult to leave our country, our families, our friends, our future,” Mina said adding that she “had to leave to be safe and to try to be a professional cyclist and improve prospects for Afghan women.”
After arriving in the UK, the two women started training under the guidance of coach James Hey, who also provided them with bicycles.
“Mina and Arefa had great potential,” he told Sky News.
“After much work, we have now been invited to participate in the UCI World Cycling Championships in Glasgow. Their initial response was one of disbelief. Going from their province where they used to dress up as men to now being on the world stage. It’s a phenomenal story,” he said.
The championships start on Thursday, and the Afghanistan team can expect to compete against the best cyclists in the world.
According to Sky, a sports psychologist, Maria Jacob, has also helped them prepare for the race mentally.
“It’s more than just the mental training, and the practice,” she said.
“The fundamental work I am doing is re-building. They are excited, they are already talking about the world championships, they are already talking about the Olympics,” she said.
After retaking control of the country in August 2021, the Taliban has systematically banned women from public life. They have not only deprived them of an education but have also banned women from taking part in sports. The most recent move against women was the closure of beauty salons and hair salons.