Suspend Taliban's Afghanistan from international sport, HRW tells IOC

Suspend Taliban's Afghanistan from international sport, HRW tells IOC
Afghanistan's first female Olympian in judo, Friba Rezayee, said the 'IOC should suspend the Taliban and their male-only athletic federations until women and girls can train and compete again'.
4 min read
06 December, 2022
The Taliban have cracked down harshly on women's rights, including in sport [VALENTIN FLAURAUD/AFP/Getty-file photo]

Afghanistan should be suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) while its Taliban rulers continue to ban women and girls from playing sports, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged on Monday.

The US-based rights group called on the IOC to suspend Afghanistan, now ruled by the Taliban, from international sport during its executive board meeting, which ends on Wednesday in Switzerland.

The Taliban have been staunchly criticised for their treatment of women and girls since they seized power in Afghanistan last year, and HRW said "hundreds" of female athletes have fled.

HRW global initiatives director Minky Worden said: "Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, thousands of women and girls have been denied the right to play sport, and the education opportunities, scholarships, and right to achieve the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health participating in sport brings.

"The IOC should not take a day longer to remove the Taliban from the Olympic Movement, strip their status, and halt the funding the IOC provides."

The IOC in the past suspended Afghanistan's national Olympic committee from 1999 to 2003, due to the previous Taliban administration's ban on women's sports.

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In response to a request for comment, the IOC directed The New Arab to a statement made at a Tuesday press conference by James Macleod, director of Olympic solidarity and national Olympic committee (NOC) relations.

It came after the IOC executive board received a full report on Afghanistan's Olympic and sports movement since the Taliban again took control of the country last year.

"The IOC executive board expressed its serious concern and strongly condemned the latest restrictions imposed by Afghan authorities on women and young girls in Afghanistan, which prevent them from practising sport in the country," Macleod said.

"The latest developments prompted the IOC executive board to urge the relevant authorities in Afghanistan, including the Afghan NOC and the Afghan directorate of physical education and sport, to take immediate action at the highest level to reverse such restrictions and ensure safe access to sport for women and young girls in the country."

He said the IOC executive board on Tuesday "decided that any support to, activities with and continued operations of the Afghan NOC within the Olympic Movement will be subject to… conditions".

These include "safe and inclusive access to sport for women and young girls being guaranteed in the country" and the inclusion of female athletes living in Afghanistan, rather than just those living abroad, in "Afghan teams and delegations participating in international sports competitions and events", according to an IOC press release.

Macleod said: "The specific modalities for the participation of the Afghan NOC delegation and team in the Olympic Games Paris 2024, including… the representation or not of the country during the Olympic Games… will depend on the progress made in relation to the fundamental issue of safe access to sport for women and young girls in the country."

Banning women and girls from sports breaches international human rights law and the Olympic Charter, which requires non-discrimination in sports, HRW said.

Taliban forces have shut training centres and athletes say they've faced threats of violence.

Afghanistan's first female Olympian in judo, Friba Rezayee, told HRW that the IOC should suspend Afghanistan until women and girls are allowed to compete.

"Afghan sports federations must permit the equal participation of women in any sport that they desire to train and compete in and the Taliban must remove all arbitrary bans on sports training facilities and competition for women," she said.

"The IOC states a goal of 50-50 gender ratio and equal male-to-female participation in all sports. Yet the Afghan National Olympic Committee is fully controlled by the Taliban's government in Kabul and is a government ministry."

The IOC said in December 2021 that it had carried out "quiet diplomacy" with the Taliban.

The remark was made by IOC President Thomas Bach in a press release about humanitarian aid by the body's executive board.

However, HRW said, given the group's far-reaching reversal of women and girls' rights, it's likely the ban on women's sports will remain permanent.

Worden, the HRW global initiatives director, said: "The IOC always says 'athletes are the heart of the Olympic Movement,' but what about the women and girls of Afghanistan?

"They are athletes too, and have not been given meaningful assistance by the Olympic system.

"They are still waiting for the IOC to stand with them instead of their abusers, the Taliban."

Note: This article was updated at 12:03 GMT on 7 December 2022 after the IOC replied to a request for comment.