My Tears Flow as I Look at My Medals: A Sportswoman Mourns Her Lost Career

I started playing ping pong when I was in grade 11. In the beginning, we used to play among ourselves in school, then the Afghanistan Olympic Committee started a competition between schools in Mazar-e-Sharif. I and three other girls were selected to represent our school. We won second place.? 

The Olympic delegation asked us to train and participate in competitive matches for the girls’ national ping pong team. I was very stressed, not thinking I’d have such an early chance to join the national team. I was also afraid of what my family and neighbours would say, as sports were considered to be reserved for boys and girls who participated in athletics were looked down upon. Still, I participated in competitions. 

Although I did not believe it, I was selected for the newly formed national team. Though it was made up of girls from different provinces in Afghanistan, competitions and public events were usually held in Kabul. Though I was afraid of how my family would react, my father supported me, saying, “This is a great honor and not everyone can be selected for the national team.” 

I was in a good mood during my travels to Kabul. It was my first official trip as a member of the team, and I wanted to do it by myself. It would be a good experience for my future. Though I did much of my training in Balkh, I regularly travelled to Kabul and other provinces to participate in competitions.? 

What I didn’t like, and what always bothered me, was the sexism in Afghanistan against girls playing sports. Though my father was happy for me to play, relatives and friends talked behind my back, saying, “This girl is not good” and “She is shameless, because she participates in sports.” Though I ignored that chatter, the discrimination extended to the Olympic directorate. Boys were valued more, had better privileges and new equipment, and got to participate in more competitions. Girls were often marginalized. Even our equipment was secondhand, having been used by the boys for two or three years before being given to the girls’ ping pong team.? 

I always thought to myself, “How can I eliminate this discrimination?” When a position was created for women in the Olympic directorate in Balkh, I was a candidate. I passed the exam and started work in 2013. As the director of women’s sports development in Balkh, I was able to do what I could to eliminate gender discrimination against female athletes and see that they had equal opportunities. During that time, I kept on competing domestically, always coming in first or second place. At least 4 competitions were held every year in different provinces across Afghanistan.? 

My love for this sport was so much that I was three months pregnant during our last competition, held in 2021 before the Taliban came to power – I came in fifth. It would be the last time I played.? 

The night Balkh fell, I felt that I fell, too. I was falling down the stairs of my success that I had achieved with difficulty. I had worked hard to get to this position. I wanted to go further. I wished to participate in international competitions, but now, everything was multiplied by zero.? 

The cups, medals, and letters of appreciation that I had collected in the past decade become a burden. I was afraid that the Taliban would find them during their regular house searches. So, I took them all from my room and hid them.? 

After a few months of Taliban control, I found out that they were allowing men to work in the Olympic office and as athletes, but were preventing women from any participation. Unable to bear this discriminatory behavior, I repeatedly went to the directorate of the Balkh Olympics, now in the hands of the Taliban. But the president of the Olympic committee wouldn’t meet me, or any woman. I tried to raise my concerns both in writing and verbally, but no one paid attention. Instead, I received the news that the Taliban banned women’s sports.? 

I am a 31-year-old mother of two children and miss sports almost as if it is one of my children. From time to time, I go to where I’ve concealed my mementoes. My tears flow as I look at my appreciation letters, cups and medals.? 

This meeting of me and my past takes place in hiding; the tears are shed in secret because I don’t want my children to be sad. I always say, “I wish it would come back again, those days that passed.” 

About the Author: Rukhsar Ahmadi was a member of the now-defunct Afghanistan women’s national ping pong team. 

*Alongside Zan Times, Women’s eNews is publishing stories from mainly women journalists working both inside and outside Afghanistan, telling stories of the marginalized populations who rarely have a voice to shape and inform public discourse, believing that change begins with awareness. Having previously worked as journalists in Afghanistan, they are aware of the challenges, dangers, and opportunities of working in the media landscape and are doing their part to make sure the stories of the country are told.

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