In war-ravaged Afghanistan, combat sports reign

Mon Feb 20, 2012 5:21am EST
 
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman and Sayed Hassib

KABUL (Reuters) - The sounds produced by the three Afghan athletes going to the London summer Olympics are fierce: elongated wails ricochet off the chipped and dilapidated walls of the taekwondo centre, while leather smacks and slaps at the boxing gym.

In a country wrenched by decades of war, perhaps it is no surprise that all three, a taekwondo male duo including Beijing bronze medalist Rohullah Nikpai, and teenage female boxer Sadaf Rahimi, followed fighting sports.

They were born into conflict that still rages, and chronic insecurity and poverty mean they train in spartan spaces with little financial support, and currently freezing cold in the country's worst winter for 30 years.

"The difference between me and others is I want to show other countries that an Afghan girl can fight," 17-year-old Rahimi told Reuters, squinting from a protective facemask that pinches her cheeks and black kohl-lined eyes.

Like Nikpai, Rahimi and her family fled to neighboring Iran to escape the violence and brutal oppression of the Taliban, who were toppled just over a decade ago.

The austere Islamist group had publicly stoned women to death for charges of adultery at the Ghazi stadium, where Rahimi, her two sisters and the rest of the country's first team of female boxers, set up in 2007, practice today.

Her muscular shoulders rippling as she readies to throw punches at her coach, Rahimi said she feared the Taliban, who banned women from education, sports and most work, would regain a share in power through early talks with Afghan and U.S. officials aimed at ending the NATO-led war.

"I hope the Taliban don't come back and take over," she said, wincing and starting to untie pink shoelaces over her knuckles, used instead of hard-to-get strapping. "But if they do, I urge them to let women engage in sports and go to school".   Continued...

 
Sadaf Rahimi (R) trains inside a boxing club in Kabul February 13, 2012. In a country wrenched by decades of war, perhaps it is no surprise that three Afghan athletes going to the London summer Olympic, a taekwondo male duo including Beijing bronze medallist Rohullah Nikpai, and teenage female boxer Sadaf Rahimi, followed fighting sports.    REUTERS/Omar Sobhani