Bradley Wiggins says the story of Afghan refugee and Olympian Masomah Ali Zada “puts everything into perspective”.
Ali Zada was forced to flee Afghanistan and seek asylum in France, where she has continued to develop as a cyclist – a sport that is widely discouraged for women in her home country.
But the 25-year-old, who travelled to the Tokyo Olympics to represent the Refugee Olympic Team, competed in the women’s time trial this week. And, speaking on the latest Bradley Wiggins Show podcast, the former Tour de France winner says her story made a big impression.
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“Watching the interview of the young refugee girl had us all quite emotional,” Wiggins said.
“You talk about perspective, I mean her story really does put everything into perspective. How eloquently she spoke, how powerfully she spoke, but how frail and how vulnerable she was at the same time, but so together and with it.
As a teenager training in Kabul she’d often get hit and pelted with stones by men shocked to see her unaccompanied on the streets on a bicycle, which you can’t imagine can you.
“It wasn’t about the result, I couldn’t even tell you what she got. It was just about her presence and what she was there for.”
Ali Zada spoke to Eurosport presenter Orla Chennaoui at the time trial, revealing that the Olympics was in fact her first ever time trial after a late decision to switch from her usual speciality in the road race.
“I got to ask her a little bit about her story, and she was saying how she wanted to send this message back to all the girls and women in Afghanistan, where riding a bike is still a political statement, a dangerous political statement,” Chennaoui said.
To be able to send that message to them, the first woman from her country, and, this is phenomenal… she’d never ridden a time trial before! Her first time trial was the Olympics.
“We started off this podcast saying how we’ve been living off half a night’s sleep and how we’d arrived at the venue with no lunch, we only had these crappy little salads,” Chennaoui continued.
“We were all having a bit of a self-indulgent moan, and then we go down and speak to her, and we had a word with ourselves. She’s come through so much to make it to this start and finish line, I think we can manage without a sandwich for a day.
"Again, it’s one of those times – that, that is what the Olympics is about.”
In her interview with Eurosport, Ali Zada said that by being at the Olympics she hoped to send a message back to the women of Afghanistan and those who look to “limit the rights of women”.
“I said to myself that I’m already a winner, a winner because I participate in the Olympics games so I’m a winner against all those who say women shouldn’t ride bikes,” she said.
I’m here and I’m so proud to represent for the right of women, for the rights of Afghan women.
“My message is mostly for people who want to limit women. My message is most for them, to give a strong answer to them that they cannot limit the rights of women.”
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