An Israeli cycling team announced Monday it has recruited exiled Afghan athlete Fariba Hashimi, a day after she won her national championship — held in Switzerland since the women’s sports event has been banned by the ruling Taliban.
Hashimi, 19, and her sister Yulduz, 22 — who took second place in the event — fled Afghanistan days before the ultra-conservative Taliban entered Kabul last year and took over the country, carrying out a crackdown on women’s rights.
Now building a new life in Italy, Fariba Hashimi has accepted an invitation to join Women’s WorldTour team Israel – Premier Tech Roland, extended by the team’s owner Sylvan Adams, according to a statement on the team’s behalf.
The statement said Yulduz will join the team as well next year, “with the announcement of a U23 Continental team in the works.”
“We are making history here as these two brave women become the first from their country to reach this level of the sport,” said Adams. “It is part of our commitment to helping young cyclists from all over the world – from developing nations to war zones.”
“I can’t lie – it’s so exciting but it’s pressure, too,” said Fariba Hashimi. “Honestly, I didn’t think I would get this opportunity to ride for a WorldTour team and a chance to race in the Tour de France.
“I will take the challenge head-on and race for all the women in Afghanistan. My country today is dangerous for many of the women living there. Women are not free to live and thrive as they wish, but if they see me riding in the TDF with the Afghan colors they will see that everything is possible.”
Adams, an Israeli-Canadian philanthropist, has been involved with efforts to rescue Afghans following the Taliban takeover last August.
The Taliban have banned women from playing sports, barred women from many government jobs and forbidden secondary school education for girls.
The Islamist organization also takes a hard line against Israel, with a spokesman declaring last year it was open to ties all with countries except the Jewish state. The Taliban has a history of supporting al-Qaeda, which routinely makes threats against Israel and uses anti-Israel rhetoric in its propaganda.
The internationally-backed government that was toppled by the Taliban, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, also did not have relations with Israel.