Afghanistan’s first female Olympian advocates for ban amid Taliban’s rights abuses

KABUL, Afghanistan — Friba Rezayee, the first Afghan woman to compete in the Olympics, has urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to exclude Afghanistan from the Paris Games due to the Taliban’s treatment of women. Rezayee, a judoka who represented Afghanistan at the 2004 Athens Olympics, argues that while the country should be banned, Afghan women should still have the opportunity to compete under the IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

“The overwhelming evidence of the Taliban’s brutal treatment of women and children highlights their danger,” Rezayee, now residing in Vancouver, told Reuters. “Allowing them into the Paris Olympics in 2024 poses a significant risk.”

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, has not commented on the matter.

The Taliban, asserting they respect women’s rights within their interpretation of Islamic law, have nevertheless closed girls’ high schools and imposed severe restrictions on women, including travel limitations without a male guardian and bans from parks and gyms.

In response to Rezayee’s plea, the IOC referenced a statement by James Macleod, Director of National Olympic Committee Relations and Olympic Solidarity. Last month, Macleod stated the IOC was working to reverse Afghanistan’s sports restrictions for women and girls. He noted diverse opinions on suspending Afghanistan’s Olympic Committee but mentioned that isolating the Afghan sporting community is currently viewed as unproductive by the IOC.

The IOC also clarified that athletes must have refugee status confirmed by the United Nations refugee agency to qualify for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

Reflecting on her historic participation in Athens, Rezayee believed her presence would advance women’s rights. “I believed we would only progress,” she said. However, her hopes were dashed following the Taliban’s ascent to power in August 2021, which she claims undermined her efforts and those of the global community tolerant of the regime.

A United Nations expert in February highlighted the Taliban’s unprecedented violations of women’s and girls’ rights and an increase in gender-based violence since their takeover.

Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee was previously suspended in 1999, leading to exclusion from the 2000 Sydney Games, but was reinstated after the Taliban’s initial fall, enabling Rezayee’s participation in 2004.

Since leaving Afghanistan in 2011, Rezayee has settled in Canada and founded Women Leaders of Tomorrow, a nonprofit providing scholarships and educational programs for Afghan women, including athletes. Despite receiving threats, she remains committed to her principles of human rights and women’s dignity.