Beijing Olympics

Rafiq Maqbool/AP
Mehboba Ahadyar

Female Afghan Runner Drops Out of Olympics

July 17, 2008 08:01 AM
by Denis Cummings
Mehboba Ahdyar has abandoned training and is seeking asylum in Europe after months of receiving threats and abuse from Afghan men.

30-Second Summary

Ahdyar was profiled by many Western media outlets earlier this year when it was announced that she would run in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters and the 2008 Olympics.

The 19-year-old, who runs in a baggy tracksuit and headscarf, was praised for overcoming many obstacles, including training on a concrete track in a stadium that once hosted public executions. Her biggest challenge, however, was posed by her fellow Afghans.

Though the country’s Taliban government—which forbade girls from working, going to school or playing sports—was toppled in 2001, many of its repressive beliefs about women remain. Men taunted and threatened Ahdyar as she ran, so much so that she began running at night to avoid their abuse. She received death threats over the phone and harassment from police.

Ahdyar was the only Afghan female scheduled to compete in this year’s games and just the third ever. She was not expected to challenge for a medal—her 1,500 meter time is a minute slower than the world record—but her presence at the Olympics would have motivated other Afghan and Muslim women to pursue athletics and other activities traditionally exclusive to men.

“For us it is enough that an Afghan girl is going to the Beijing Games,” coach Shahpoor Amiri had said. “She doesn’t have to get first or second place, she has overcome so many problems and she is already an inspiration.”

Instead, her withdrawal and possible emigration serves one of many reminders of the difficulties faced by women in repressive Muslim countries.

Headline Link: Ahdyar leaves Olympic team

Key Player: Mehboba Ahdyar

Background: Afghanistan in the Olympics

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