REPORTING. “Sport is my fight, my way of resisting,” says Fathima, an Afghan karateka living in the Lesvos refugee camp

Invisible or almost. Refugee women make up almost 20% of the sports practitioners registered by the Yoga and Sport association with refugees on Lesvos (Greece). However, they are often the first to benefit from sport in terms of health, well-being or even integration. Near the Mavrovouni camp, the sports club wants to support them both in their daily practice and at the highest level.

“The Taliban banned women from exercising, doing sports, improving their living conditions, being able to study. They didn’t give us the right to leave our homes. It became very dangerous, so we fled with my family”explains Fathima Mirzahi, karateka. The young woman with a straight face, almond eyes, a torn shirt and an impeccable appearance has been living in the Mavrovouni camp in Greece for six months.

At right, Fathima Mirzahi trains to rehearse her karate moves, May 22, 2022. (Louise Le Borgne)

At 15 she had to leave everything behind. I trained every day in Afghanistan, I competed internationally in Pakistan, Tajikistan and India. All I want is to go to a country where I can pursue my passion.” adds the young lady.

“Sport is my fight, my way of resisting. I want to make my family and my country proud. I want to represent Afghanistan at the Olympics.”

Fathima Mirzahi, refugee

france info: sport

According to the latest report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), June 16, 2022, pAlmost 2.7 million Afghans live outside their country with refugee status. Fathima, she is still patiently waiting amidst the white tents of Mavrovouni camp while her refugee status is accepted.

EIn anticipation of returning to the circuits of the world, the young woman made it a point to continue her training. As soon as she arrived on the island, she rushed to the nearest gym. Ehe shares it from now on her acquaintances with the other women, over the course of karate.

“Shaaaaah! Stronger! Upper, higher !‘ echoed the screams of Fathima in the small gym. The doors were closed and a sign posted at the entrance: “Only women are allowed”. The poster will in turn be translated into English, Arabic and Farsi. In order to attract more women to its activities, the Yoga and Sports Association has developed activities with refugees that are reserved exclusively for them. “For me it is important. I’ve always trained like this and wouldn’t be confident otherwise.” explains Fatima.

Warming up for the women's karate class at the Yoga and Sport With Refugees gym, May 23, 2022. (Louise Le Borgne / Franceinfo:sport)

“Of course, all activities are open to everyone, but for cultural reasons, Afghan women are not used to training with men and may be teased when they return to the camp. So that they can practice physical activity with confidence, we have created these courses in karate and swimming for women”, explains Estelle Jean, director of the association Yoga and Sport with Refugees.

Fathima Marzahi is an Afghan karate hope.  The arrival of the Taliban disrupted her everyday life and the young woman had to flee with her family.  She is now living in Mavrovouni camp on Lesvos, where she is trying to continue her education while waiting for her papers.

That Saturday morning, two more women joined the karate class. It’s difficult to keep up with the pace of the uncompromising high-level athlete. “Wow, that hurts a bit.” Rebecca reacts when she takes the lightning strike from Fathima into her punching bag. The young woman from Ethiopia woke up in her twenties “get back in shape”. For a year she has been on the roads of the Mediterranean Sea. Beyond the physical practice, Rebecca says she enjoys doing it find other women” with whom one can exchange ideas in a cheerful atmosphere.

“The gym allows them to do activities that are important to them in a more sheltered place than at camp. Here their health improves, they can breathe,” adds Nina Of winterco-founder of the association. Bijou, a Cameroonian refugee, confirms her words and highlights the daily difficulties that hinder her practice: “I don’t mind that it’s between women, but for me it’s mostly a question of niche. I don’t come often, so after the fitness class I continued with karate. When I leave the camp, I have to get food, work, take care of daily life. I can only come here on weekends.” blows the young woman in pink pantyhose on a power machine.

“I would like to start training again and become world champion. But nobody here is on my level”

Fathima Marzahi, high-profile refugee athlete

france info: sport

The sports hall of the club is equipped: Sports bras, leggings and T-shirts are neatly arranged at the entrance and are available to the athletes. But when it comes to karate kimonos and proper protection, the equipment is lacking. Wearing leggings, the young woman does the warm-up and exercises in a mixture of Farsi, Japanese and a few words of English. “These courses clear my mind, but I would like more people, more resistance and more material.”‘ the young woman grimaced. So the athlete fights against herself and stares at her reflection, which sends back a warrior’s face. The face of an exile.

Fathima Mirzahi, Afghan refugee, warms up on May 23, 2022 on Lesvos island.  (Louise Le Borgne)

If Fathima is the only top female karate athlete, the association is registering more and more women in its courses, whether mixed or not: “It has to do with the end of Ramadan, with the good weather, but also with the work of a volunteer who made sure that the women were taken to the gym,” emphasizes Estelle Jean before concluding: “The goal is to play sport together, to have that physical and moral breath, to erase all cultural differences and gender stereotypes, and to support athletes like Fathima in their sporting ambitions as much as we can.” And why not until the Olympics when karate returns there.

Leave a Comment