Against all odds, Afghans try their luck in Beijing
By John Chalmers
BEIJING, Aug 9 (Reuters) – Sprinter Robina Muqimyar does not have a qualified trainer, she has no sponsor, she comes from a country ruined by war and she grew up under hardline Islamist rulers who would not brook girls playing sport.
Little wonder that she stands little chance of a medal at the Beijing Olympics.
But Muqimyar, the only woman among four athletes representing Afghanistan at the Games, told Reuters she would just be happy if she could improve the 100 metres time she clocked up at Athens four years ago, 14.14 seconds.
“I’m the luckiest girl in the world to participate in two Olympic Games, and I hope to get to London,” she said after a ceremony to raise the black-green-gold tricolour of Afghanistan among a sea of flags at the athletes’ village.
Although Afghan society remains deeply conservative, some things have improved for women since 2001, when U.S.-led and Afghan forces ousted the Taliban rulers.
Muqimyar, dressed in a headscarf, said that most people in her country would be very proud that a female athlete was representing them in a world sports event.
Her Olympic teammates include two taekwondo competitors and a men’s 100 metres runner, Masoud Azizi, a 23-year-old.
There is not a single proper running track in the whole country and athletes in Kabul, the capital, train at a sports stadium where the Taliban used to hold public executions.
“We have to run on concrete,” said Azizi, another Athens Olympian who went to Malaysia for five months before the Beijing Games to train. His best time in the 100 metres is 10.87 seconds.
“Under the Taliban regime it was very difficult to be an athlete but now with (President Hamid) Karzai things are better,” he said.
“Afghanistan faces a huge funding crisis. At international donor meetings funds go to schools, health and construction but no one considers sports,” he said. (editing by Alison Williams)