Women who fled Taliban will race in world’s biggest cycling competition

Two women cyclists from Afghanistan, who fled the Taliban’s ban, are preparing tough to make history in an upcoming UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.

After resettling in the UK in late 2022, Arefa and Mina, now in their early 20s, have been training under the guidance of a professional coach twice a week for several months to get ready for the tournament.

The championships will be held between 3 and 13 August next month and the riders are excited to travel to Scotland to represent Afghanistan for the very first time.

“I want to represent my country, for every Afghan girl that doesn’t have that opportunity,” Arefa told Sky News.

Mina said it was hard for them to flee the country, leaving behind their family members.

Speaking to Sky News, she said: “We had to leave to be safe and to try to be a professional cyclist and improve prospects for Afghan women.”

Nearly two years after their return to power, the Taliban have imposed a string of draconian rules to ban women and girls from public life and curb their freedoms, including from playing sports.

Arefa and Mina had to spend one year in hiding as refugees, fearing for their lives. They had to disguise themselves as boys while traveling to safety.

“When the Taliban came to the country everything was banned for girls, every day, one more thing we couldn’t do.” Mina lamented.

“It’s more than just the mental training, and the practice,” Sports psychologist Maria Jacob, who helped Arefa and Mina mentally prepare for training, said. “They are excited, they are already talking about the world championships, they are already talking about the Olympics.”