Thu, Mar 07, 2013 - Page 19 News List

Red tape can wreck female Afghan boxers’ UK dream

THE Guardian, LONDON

Three young Afghan female boxers risk missing an official invitation to train and fight in the UK because of “excessive” red tape.

Sadaf Rahimi, Fahima Mohammad and Shabnam Rahman have overcome a host of cultural and financial barriers to pursue their sport in Kabul.

They were due to visit London for their first bout with UK rivals as part of International Women’s Day tomorrow.

Instead, they have been forced to wait for days in Delhi for paperwork that has already been approved to be “officially processed.”

The team from Kabul has “invited status” and support for sports visas, but visitors from Afghanistan must get paperwork in India before they can travel to the UK.

Margaret Pope, founder of the Women in Sport Foundation which had worked to bring the Afghan boxers to the UK, said of the delay: “It is a frustrating, 11th-hour development to a groundbreaking initiative ... to bring the women to the UK and equip them with skills and experience to take back to Afghanistan.”

“One of the justifications for the UK military involvement in Afghanistan was to help improve the terrible situation for the country’s women,” she said.

“It is therefore a bitter irony that when there is a clear opportunity to assist some of the bravest, talented and most inspiring young Afghan women, bureaucratic delays are quashing their dreams,” she added.

“Making Afghans who request visas travel to a third country in order to receive them and then wait weeks to hear if they have been successful could cynically be seen as a way of discouraging all those but the very wealthy from visiting the UK,” former aid worker Melanie Brown said.

“This is extremely frustrating, there is the considerable cost and the impracticality of staying in Delhi for weeks at a time while waiting for paperwork to be rubber-stamped,” Brown added.

Rahimi, Mohammad and Rahman are due to train and attend a charity auction in London to raise money for their gym in Kabul, then travel to Bristol to be coached by Britain’s first officially licensed female boxer, Jane Couch MBE.

Couch is no stranger to struggles with authorities — in 1998, she persuaded an industrial tribunal to overturn a British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) ruling that had denied her a license. The BBBC had said that premenstrual syndrome made women too unstable to box.

After years of lobbying from British female fighters, women’s boxing was officially recognized as an Olympic sport on Aug. 14, 2009.

At the London 2012 Games, there were female boxers from Kazakhstan, North Korea and Turkey, while British boxer Nicola Adams became the first woman to win an Olympic boxing gold.

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