Afghan Cycling Federation Coach Faces Corruption Charges

Originally published on April 30, 2016 7:58 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

NPR aired a hopeful story from Afghanistan a couple of years ago about the Afghan women's cycling team. Our own Peter Breslow followed them on a training ride outside of Kabul.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ABDUL SADIQ: (Through interpreter) The road is very narrow. Make sure you don't get into an accident. As you see, the cars are coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN)

PETER BRESLOW, BYLINE: Just west of Kabul where the city's sooty skies give way to fresher air, coach Abdul Sadiq cautions the four young women of the Afghan National Cycling Federation. Today, they're working on their riding technique while dodging the free-form traffic.

SADIQ: (Through interpreter) There has to be a space. Adjust the space.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) Of course it's dangerous. Every time we hear a car coming, we kind of look twice and then get to the side to avoid an accident.

SIMON: So in that story, we heard about a dedicated coach and his proud, fierce riders. But now that hopeful story's turned sour. Abdul Sadiq has been dismissed as men's coach and head of the Afghan Cycling Federation amid questions about corruption and his relationship with some of the women riders.

And Mountain2Mountain, the charity that supplied bikes and gear to the riders, announced that it will no longer support the cycling federation. Shannon Galpin is the founder of Mountain2Mountain. She joins us on the line from Breckenridge, Colo. Thanks so much for being with us.

SHANNON GALPIN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And why have you withdrawn your support?

GALPIN: Oh, well because they have been selling the bikes that we've donated. They embezzle money. The corruption was just too much. I couldn't navigate the corruption, you know, one more day.

SIMON: Now, coach Sadiq has been fired from the cycling federation and the men's team. But - do I have this correct? - he still coaches the women.

GALPIN: He is still the coach for the women - for the moment.

SIMON: Yeah. This has to be bad for team morale.

GALPIN: Well, I think it's bad for all teams in Afghanistan because this is not just indicative of, you know, the cycling federation. I mean, this is a problem that we have been working with for the past three years. This is not new for us. And it's not new for the other sports federations - the cricket, the soccer, the taekwondo teams.

All of the women's sports federations, you know, unfortunately are subject to the same corruption and mismanagement because the men are in the positions of power. So even something as empowering as sport - and in this particular case, our work with the cycling team, it just becomes another source of oppression and entrapment.

SIMON: I don't want to make apologies for corruption. Maybe it's the Chicagoan in me.

GALPIN: (Laughter).

SIMON: But is it possible that you're just not understanding Afghanistan culture?

GALPIN: No because I've worked in Afghanistan for eight years. I'm very aware of every layer of corruption and how systemic it is and how it's literally part of daily life. I am not naive about that.

And in this particular case, it is a system where we bring over materials and supplies for the girls, and the coach sells them for his own benefit. This last February, the coach took the girls to India to race at the South Asian championships. And I had funded this race. They were representing their country, and he didn't take them to the races. He took them to India and took them to go see his family.

So you know, there's nothing open to interpretation, nor is selling the bikes that have been donated for the girls to race and ride on.

SIMON: Yeah. The New York Times reports that Mr. Sadiq denied all corruption charges. We have been unsuccessful in reaching Mr. Sadiq ourselves so far, but we'll continue to try to do that. You're headed back to Afghanistan next week, though, to work with the women, right?

GALPIN: I am.

SIMON: You might run into coach Sadiq.

GALPIN: Oh, I plan to (laughter). I'm not avoiding him. You know, this is just the next step in what has been a, you know, a long road over the last three years to support these young women who - here they are having all these barriers of, you know, a very conservative society. Bicycling is still taboo for women. And yet, the same institutions that are there to support cycling and to support sports are the same institutions that are creating the barriers.

The girls are scared to say anything publicly because they would lose their right to ride. And that means way too much to them. It's - they don't see another avenue. And so unless there is another solution, whether that is a change in leadership or whether that is bringing them outside of the country to be able to get real coaching and training, it remains kind of a helpless place for them.

SIMON: Shannon Galpin is founder of the charity Mountain2Mountain. Thanks so much for being with us.

GALPIN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.