Afghan dreams of fleeing country after Taliban bans MMA practice | combat

Aug. 15 marked the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, but it was the images of the following day that shocked the world. A mob of Afghans stormed the Kabul airport to try to board civil and military planes in a desperate attempt to leave the country. Some were even dangling from aircraft that took off and images posted on social networks showed what appeared to be bodies falling to the ground.

Afghans can't work in sport under Taliban regime

Afghans can’t work in sport under Taliban regime

The scenes portray the agony of a population that fears the radical regime that has returned to dominate the country. In sports, the reflex is felt especially among women. Although the discourse is apparently moderate, in practice they are still prohibited from practicing any modality, always having cultural and religious issues as an obstacle, such as the exposure of faces and bodies. MMA was banned as the Taliban considered it a sin for one man to hit another man in the face.

Abdul Wasi Sharifi, founder and CEO of Afghanistan’s premier MMA event, the Truly Grand Fighting Championship, is suffering the immediate consequences of the country’s change in government. With the ban on the sport, he started to suffer threats from the Taliban and intends to flee. He was one of the inhabitants to go to the airport to try to board American planes, but he was unable to enter the place.

– Everything has changed since the Taliban returned to power. I never thought the Taliban would come back to power. We had an army of 300,000 soldiers. They are all worried about their families, frightened by what is happening in Afghanistan. I tried to flee Afghanistan when the American plane was at the airport. People were desperate to flee, but there was a crowd, and they threatened people, even families with small children. I couldn’t get in… – lamented Sharifi, in an interview with Combat.com.

Abdul Wasi Sharifi — Photo: Personal archive

The father of two daughters, Neyaish and Setayesh, aged 7 and 8, Abdul has received threats since 2018 and they include the two girls. To leave the house, he tries to wear a scarf over his face and sunglasses to avoid being recognized, since for five years he hosted a TV show in Afghanistan.

– I’m very worried about them when they go out. We have a small family, and even when they go home to relatives, I get worried. I have already received messages from the Taliban saying that they would not be kind to my children. I have these messages with me, I’m worried about my children. I was threatened by the Taliban in 2018 when I was organizing MMA events on TV. They sent it to my office saying they were going to kill me because, being a Muslim, I couldn’t be doing that. The second time was in 2019, I was organizing a fight event for the Police, and they were against the Police. I was very threatened. Sometimes I get really emotional when I stop to think about how this is all happening. I have little daughters and they say they won’t be kind, they even say they’re thirsty for their blood.

Abdul Wasi Sharifi and his two daughters — Photo: Personal archive

TV Globo commentator Guga Chacra reported that the situation of Afghan women with the Taliban cannot be compared to that of any other regime in the world due to the total lack of rights in their favor.

– Women have no rights. There, under the previous regime, they could not study. Now they put so much restriction that in practice they cannot study, in practice they cannot work, they are forced to wear the burka… It is something like that that does not treat women as human beings. Some might say he treats like an animal, but it’s worse than an animal. It’s even difficult to describe, they speak medieval, but I think that even in the Middle Ages women had more rights. There is no parallel in the world for the Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan. This is the scenario for women in Afghanistan. Men have some rights, but you live in the middle of an oppressive regime that if you do something wrong they don’t like, you can… (head cut sign). It’s a nightmare, there’s nowhere in the world that’s a nightmare like it,” he pointed out.

According to Guga, the most moderate speech is just to seek international recognition, but in practice the Taliban will continue to be radical. In sport, the commentator believes there is no hope for Afghanistan’s athletes inside the country.

– The Taliban do not like sports, they are against the sport. And that’s one more difference when you compare with other radical countries. They’re against the sport, so if you’re an athlete, you basically can’t stay in Afghanistan. If you’re a woman athlete then… we saw the women’s soccer team, which even left. You won’t have any options. Competitive, high-performance sport, with the Taliban in power, this is practically eliminated. The only alternative for an Afghan athlete is to leave Afghanistan. Of course it is a very difficult decision. If you leave, you can’t come back.

Abdul’s hope currently rests with Jason Hoad, president of an MMA event in Australia, who is seeking an immigration visa so he can leave Afghanistan. With plans to return to work in the sport outside his country, he is just waiting for a chance to run away to dream again of a better future for his daughters.

– I have a friend, Jason Hoad, who filled out an immigration visa application for me. He’s trying to get me out of here, but we’re still waiting for it. There are people trying to help me. I hope they make an appeal to the entire MMA community, the UFC, Dana White. Maybe they will be able to get us out of Kabul because the situation is tough for the MMA community. I’m worried about my family, my children, because while I’m in Afghanistan, something might happen to me, because the situation is so bad. I have two female daughters and I can’t put them in school because the Taliban won’t allow it. As long as they are in Afghanistan, they have no future, because there is no future without education.

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