Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.
Several months on from a huge initiative to rescue Afghan cyclists from the Taliban and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, over two dozen riders and their families are still in hiding in and scrambling to reach safety.
Earlier this week it was confirmed that the Italian authorities would help to evacuate and take in 80 Afghan individuals who are currently hiding in safe-houses in Pakistan, and while that announcement was met with praise and relief the fact remains that 27 riders and family members are currently not safe and face persecution and human rights abuses.
According to reports in CyclingTips, cyclists have been arrested, detained, and beaten. Any female athletes in Afghanistan are banned from participating in sports at any level. Afghanistan is the only country in the world now where cycling is banned. All of the female athletes still in Afghanistan have been banned from competition.
“We have just under 70 Afghans in Pakistan right now who we’ve brought there in stages over the last few months,” Shannon Galpin told VeloNews. “Fifteen cyclists and family members have been resettled already in various countries, 25 more are in UAE headed to Canada, thanks to the work of coordination with IsraAid, and 80 visas are now confirmed for Italy thanks to the incredible work in Italy with Francesca Monzone.
“Yes, these athletes and family members are going to Italy eventually but we still have the responsibility of continuing to safeguard them because they’re not necessarily safe in Pakistan.”
Galpin has been instrumental in the rescue efforts that date back to last August. Galpin worked in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2016 and has tirelessly coordinated with the authorities in several countries to help safeguard riders and their families from the Taliban. She has petitioned the UCI for additional help and funding and raised major concerns with the UCI’s Ethics Commission over the allegations facing the Afghan Cycling Federation and its president, who currently resides in Switzerland.
For Galpin, the situation remains bleak for the Afghans left behind after the initial efforts by the UCI and their partners helped to evacuate the first wave of refugees last year.
“Beyond the evacuation logistics, we have to support them, lodge them, and feed them. That takes funding. It’s important for readers to realize that these people had to leave with nothing. Their bank accounts were frozen so they had no access to money when they left. That means that this has been entirely supported by Crowdfunding,” she said.
“Then I have 27 cyclists and family members in hiding and in safe houses that were from Bamyan because they were targeted by the Taliban. One was actually arrested and beaten up. The others were visited by the Taliban. They’ve fled and are in safe houses and we need to raise the funds to safeguard them and try and get them out.”
According to Galpin, the UCI needs to do more. She told VeloNews that the sport’s governing body refuses to reply to her emails or any other forms of correspondence. The UCI declined to respond when allegations first surfaced in November around the conduct of the Afghan Federation after an extensive report from CyclingTips uncovered serious questions. She called on the UCI to use its platform to help the remaining athletes in hiding.
VeloNews has reached out to the UCI for comment and has been assured that answers will be provided in an interview with the governing body next week.
“We are still running daily operations that could make use of the UCI’s platform. They could say that they don’t have the funding but they could use their platform to engage cycling clubs, teams, athletes, partners, and federations. That would have enormous power,” Galpin said.
“That could raise the money to protect these cyclists and keep them safe. They are starving. They are starving. I have the operation but I need it funded. They refuse to help us with that platform. Why? Why are these cyclists not worthy of protection?
“If this was any other country where women’s cycling was banned and male cyclists were being beaten up then we’d be outraged. But we’re not. The cycling industry is silent, the UCI is silent, pro cyclists race like nothing is happening but if it was Portugal, Colombia, or any western country we’d be outraged but it’s Afghanistan so we don’t care. The sport is banned because of human rights and there’s global fatigue over Afghanistan. The Taliban is rounding up cyclists.”