When the judoka competed in Athens, her father and one among her brothers instructed her it was as if she had taken the “first step on the moon.”
It wasn’t only a particular second for Rezayee: it was a momentous second for girls throughout Afghanistan. The judoka was now a logo for a society that, though removed from excellent, was lastly altering.
However now the Taliban has returned to energy in Afghanistan and Rezayee fears that the progress that has been made for girls’s lives over the past 20 years can be misplaced.
Taliban leaders have not too long ago expressed their dedication to a “blanket amnesty” for all in Afghanistan, together with members of the Afghan army and interpreters, however Rezayee says the longer term can be bleak for girls within the nation.
“After they [the Taliban] cool down, they’ve their authorities established, they may go after the people who spoke towards them,” Rezayee, 33, instructed Muricas Information Sport.
“Girls who went to highschool, girls who went to universities and ladies who performed sports activities.”
Because the Taliban swept into the capital of Kabul, Rezayee says the ladies she works with now concern for his or her lives.
“I am involved with them every single day. They ship me heartbreaking messages,” she stated.
“Lately, the Afghan feminine athletes visited the dojo (judo coaching health club). They held one another’s fingers. They hugged one another. In addition they kissed the mats as a result of that was the final time they are going to see them and that was the final day of their freedom.
“They’re additionally sending me messages, pleading for his or her life, for his or her security. All these girls leaders or human rights, girls’s rights activists wish to flee the nation. They wish to flee the Taliban for apparent causes.”
‘A motion for freedom, for liberty, for all times’
Rezayee says she nonetheless remembers the brutality and oppression of the Taliban’s “unimaginable” regime.
She fled to Pakistan together with her household after the beginning of the group’s first rule in 1996 however returned after the US invasion in 2001 and set about taking advantage of newfound freedoms.
It was as a refugee in Pakistan that Rezayee says she fell in love with boxing.
She remembers watching heavyweight champion Mike Tyson on a small crackling TV display screen and being impressed by Laila Ali, the daughter of sporting legend Muhammad Ali.
“I fell in love with how highly effective Laila Ali was, what an icon she was. I wished to do the identical factor,” says Rezayee.
On her return to Afghanistan, she enrolled at an all-girls faculty and began coaching with a boxing coach, feeling empowered by the game.
“The final 20 years, Afghan girls labored so onerous, that they had so many achievements,” she stated.
“Girls went to highschool, that they had careers. Girls ran for workplace, girls ran companies — you title it — the Afghan girls did.”
Besides not all sections of Afghan society have been prepared to simply accept these freedoms for girls.
Rezayee says she began to obtain dying threats and her coach ultimately stated it was too harmful to maintain coaching. The coach put her in contact with one other coach, who launched her to judo.
With the assistance of a charity, she fell in love with the martial arts self-discipline and skilled alongside two different ladies — the one girls in the whole nation to compete in judo, she says.
“It was a milestone for us and a big second,” Rezayee added.
“[It was] very harmful as a result of the society was not able to see feminine athletes at the moment as a result of they have been simply ending and simply popping out of the darkish regime of the Taliban.
“It was extraordinarily harmful, however I’d practice onerous. I didn’t care in regards to the social stigma, what my family and the society…stated.
“I believed in myself and I believed within the different ladies and I believed within the sport.”
After competing domestically, Rezayee was ultimately chosen to signify her nation on the 2004 Athens Olympics.
She was one among solely two Afghan girls to compete in Greece — the opposite being 100m sprinter Robina Muqim Yaar — however the scheduling of the judo and observe and discipline occasions ensured Rezayee was the primary lady to step into official competitors, she says.
She confronted a four-time world champion from Spain and misplaced within the first spherical however nonetheless made an indelible mark on Afghanistan’s historical past.
“I didn’t win. I used to be very unhappy, I used to be heartbroken. I referred to as my father and my older brother again in Afghanistan and stated that I used to be so sorry I did not win, I allow you to down,” she stated.
“However my father and one among my brothers stated: ‘Don’t be concerned, you did not win, however you made historical past.'”
Nonetheless, on her return to Afghanistan, Rezayee says she was compelled into hiding for just a few months.
She stated fundamentalists within the nation “wished her lifeless” and that she additionally feared for the security of her household.
After a household tragedy in 2005, Rezayee fled to Pakistan once more earlier than lastly searching for refuge in Canada in 2011.
She has not returned to her beloved nation since 2013 however has no regrets about her resolution to signify Afghan girls on the worldwide stage.
“I wished to point out the patriarchy in Afghanistan that ladies are equal (to) males and so they can take part,” she stated.
“And I additionally wished the ladies’s competitors, girls’s sports activities, girls’s rights to be very regular within the eyes of the patriarchy and different individuals and in addition to point out to the world that there are girls in Afghanistan and so they play sport.”
‘We’ll develop into a resistance group’
Watching the information unfold over the previous couple of days has devastated Rezayee, and he or she says she is afraid of what this regime will do.
Regardless of their public pronouncements, she would not imagine that the Taliban have modified and referred to as on world leaders to topple the newly shaped regime.
Extra positively, she believes there’s nonetheless an opportunity that ladies can signify Afghanistan at future Olympic Video games. She is engaged on a venture to ship Afghan girls judokas to Paris in 2024 and referred to as on the world’s sporting governing our bodies to help Afghan athletes.
In an announcement to Muricas Information, the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) stated it was “monitoring the state of affairs and is involved with the game group in Afghanistan.”
“On the identical time, we’ve got forwarded related data to various accountable governments. For apparent causes of safety of involved individuals, we’d not remark additional at this stage,” the assertion continued.
Muricas Information has additionally contacted the Afghan Olympic Committee however has but to obtain a response.
Regardless of the chaos and traumatic photos coming from the nation this week, Rezayee nonetheless has hope.
That, she says, is one thing the Taliban can by no means take away from the ladies of Afghanistan.
“My message to Afghan girls in Afghanistan proper now could be to remain robust. This can be a nightmare, however nightmares do not final very lengthy,” she stated.
“We’ll make this by way of. If nothing else, we’ll develop into a resistance group. We’ll battle for our rights it doesn’t matter what.
“As soon as, we misplaced our rights within the Nineties — we’re not going to let that occur once more. Keep robust. Keep in contact. Additionally keep very clever.
“I imagine in peace. Peace, prosperity and human rights will prevail.
“Everyone’s dying for peace.”