Spanish club welcomes Afghan wheelchair players fleeing home

Madrid — The captain of the wheelchair basketball team in Afghanistan has found a new home and new club in the Basque Country of Spain.

Nilofar Bayat, who fled Afghanistan with the help of the Spanish government after the Taliban took over this month, lives and plays in the city of Bilbao.

Bidaidek Bilbao Club said Thursday that Bayat and her husband and player Ramish Nikezai are expected to start practicing with the rest of the team next month. The current Spanish champion club is waiting for paperwork to be registered with the local federation.

Bidaideak Bilbao is also trying to help other wheelchair players left behind in Afghanistan, including Latifasa Kizade, who contacted the club after hearing the news that they welcomed Bayat. According to the club, Sakizade is still arriving at the airport in Kabul and leaving Afghanistan.

Bayat was a young girl when her family home in Kabul was attacked by a rocket during the Taliban administration, injuring her spinal cord and killing her brother. Bayat started wheelchair basketball and eventually reached the national team. Since then, she has been an active advocate of women’s rights and the rights of women with disabilities, which has increased the fear of retaliation by the Taliban in her hometown.

“The Taliban have destroyed everything I’ve worked hard on in the last few years,” she said at a press conference after arriving in Spain last week. “They destroyed my achievements, all my efforts in just one day.”

The Taliban promised to bring Afghanistan back to security, and while many Afghans remain skeptical, they promised not to seek revenge on those who opposed or defended human rights in the past.

Bayat and her husband were one of more than 800 Afghans who had been evacuated from Kabul by the Spanish government since the Taliban took over the capital.

Bayat’s story came to the fore after she talked to a Spanish journalist she had been friends with many years ago about her fears. Antonio Panpriega posted her story on Twitter to encourage a flood of support.

With the involvement of the Government of Spain and the Spanish Basketball Federation, the couple was finally included in the list of evacuees supported by Spain.

Bayat was “living and happy” and was pleased to be in a position to “start a new life” with her husband in Spain, but she said she would never forget her country.

“I’m the only one. Others are still in the country,” she said. “I want the United Nations, all nations to help Afghanistan. The Taliban are the same as they were 20 years ago, so don’t leave them alone. Now they have all the controls.”

Tales Azzoni

Associated Press

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