Nilofar Bayat played her first game of wheelchair basketball in an open court in the middle of Kabul, surrounded by mainly male onlookers who shouted insults and called her names.
She decided to keep playing anyway.
Today, the 24-year-old captain and her all-female team are preparing to qualify for next year’s Paralympic games in Tokyo – a challenge, but hardly the only one the young team is facing.
“Sometimes our training sessions are cancelled due to insecurity, and many players don’t have their family’s support. A number of women even dropped out after getting married. Their husbands wouldn’t let them play,” says Bayat, adding that – especially in such tough circumstances – she is proud to play internationally.
Strapped into wheelchairs, the team whizzes across the gym, their hands covered in grey dust from accelerating the wheels. Basketballs fly through the air as loud cheers echo. The majority of players have full-time jobs, so training takes place as the sun rises during their free weekends.
Afghanistan’s female national wheelchair basketball team only started competing internationally two years ago, at the Bali Cup. It did not stop them from taking home the gold medal. The team of 12 [...]