International Day of Sport for Development and Peace: a reminder to the world from two Afghan women
Masomah Ali Zada and Benafsha Faizi are convinced of sport’s ability to unite populations. They speak from experience and have a clear message.
Cyclist Masomah Ali Zada arrived in France in 2017 and is currently studying civil engineering in Lille. She trained at the UCI World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland, before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she competed as part of the IOC Refugee Team. In 2022, she was appointed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes Commission.
Journalist Benafsha Faizi was part of the cycling community evacuated from Afghanistan by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and different partners in 2021. Former media officer and spokesperson for the Afghanistan Olympic Committee, she is currently doing an internship with the Olympic Refuge Foundation, which helps young people affected by displacement thrive and connect through sport. She lives in Montreux, Switzerland, with her husband and 11-month-old son.
Both young women hope that International Day of Sport for Development and Peace will remind people of the continuing conflict in their country since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021, and the plight of the country’s women, who have lost basic rights.
THE UNIFYING POWER OF SPORT
Masomah Ali Zada first discovered the unifying powers of sport after the London 2012 Olympic Games, when a young athlete from her ethnic group Hazara won a bronze medal for taekwondo. Masomah was among the crowds that gathered to welcome the national hero Rohullah Nikpai back onto Afghan soil. Suddenly the country’s internal conflicts due to ethnic differences no longer existed.
“We were all there, from different ethnic groups. We were all proud and we didn't talk about our differences. He was Afghan and his Olympic medal was the pride of all Afghan people. That day I saw the unification of the people. It is the power of sport to bring people together. It was a moment of sharing. Since that day, I have understood that sport can bring peace, unification, sharing, pride, solidarity.”
Masomah Ali Zada experienced sport’s power in this domain again as part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Refugee Team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she competed in the individual time trial.
“We were all of different nationalities, different cultures, different languages, and different skin colour. But we were all in one team, thanks to sport. This is a real example that sport can bring peace and bring all countries together. I don't know if there is anything else that has the power to do that. I am so proud to have been part of this team.”
Benafsha Faizi, who was the only female Afghan journalist to accompany Afghanistan’s team to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, also witnessed sport’s ability to break barriers and bring people together.
She was again reminded of sport’s ability to unite last October when she attended the Women’s Road Championships of Afghanistan, held exceptionally at the UCI World Cycling Centre. The event, organised by the UCI WCC and its partners, saw the participation of 50 Afghan women, including Masomah Ali Zada, now living in safety in different countries since their evacuation.
“The Championships was a great initiative by the UCI allowing the Afghan female cyclists to compete in a very high-level competition. They were also a key message to the world that they should not forget Afghan women who have been left behind in Afghanistan, and also provide enough support for those women who are now living in different countries as refugees.
“They were forced to flee their motherland where they had family and connections. Adapting to the situation takes time and is so very difficultBut fortunately there is a lot of opportunity for them that they can take it.”