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By Abdul Nasir Khan
LAHORE – At a time when some foreign men’s teams are afraid to compete in Pakistan, Afghan women cyclists participated in the National Women’s Cycling Championship May 1-3 in Lahore.
“It was the first time … that any foreign team participated in the event, and it will be a message for other teams to come to Pakistan as it is a sports loving and secure country,” Idrees Haider Khawaja, Secretary OF THE Pakistan Cycling Federation, told Central Asia Online.
Some men’s sports teams have avoided competing in Pakistan since a deadly attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March 2009.
Idrees said the Afghan women gave him hope for broader international competition in the race.
“The Afghan cyclists have encouraged us to organiSe more international events in near future,” Idrees said. “We are planning the South Asia Women Cycling Championship and will invite all (regional) countries to send their teams to participate in the event.”
The Afghan team, four Pakistani provincial teams (Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa AND Punjab) and department teams from the police, Higher Education Commission (HEC) and Pakistan Railways participated in the three-day event.
Pakistan Railways won the championship, while HEC was the runner-up. The Afghan team placed third in two events, the 20km Team Time Trial and 3km Team Perceive race.
“We were not expecting any upset but gave our best performance and consider it (an honour) to represent Afghanistan in Pakistan National Cycling Championship,” Afghan cyclist Zohal Sarwary, a Kabul College student on his first international trip, told Central Asia Online, adding, “The reception we received here was beyond our expectations.”
Arzoo Umeed, a resident of Kabul, said she is looking for more chances to compete abroad.
“There are rare opportunities for women players in Afghanistan to come forward, but being a resident of Kabul, I am lucky to have playing facilities and coaching,” said Arzoo, who previously represented Afghanistan in the SAF Games, a South Asian competition.
Karishma Ibadi sees a brighter future for women’s sports in Afghanistan.
“I know that it will take time to win at an international level, but as sports … grow we will be able to produce good players who will win abroad,” said Karishma, a college student who wants to become a cycling coach.
Shukarya Ahmad and Salma Kakar said there were no security issues while they were in Pakistan.
Afghan coach Abdul Sadiq said he hopes the Pakistan tour will help Afghan cyclists improve competitively.
“Sports spread love and build good relations between nations,” Sadiq said. “Pakistan is our second home, and we hope that Pakistani players will also visit Afghanistan and will play there.”