Olympic Dreams and Real World Fears

Dee KarlSenior Analyst IJuly 23, 2008

We interrupt my usual NYI Hockey Talk to bring you an unusual commentary.

As I left the hotel in PA Tuesday morning, I grabbed the complimentary USA Today that was slipped under my door with the bill for almost $600. I only read USA Today when I’m traveling. It’s not a paper I seek out, but if they hand it to me, I’ll read it.

Somewhere stuck in traffic on I-83, I began to read a commentary by Mike Lopresti called “An Afghan’s Olympic joy turns to Pain.” It’s a short commentary about three young women from Afghanistan who were nothing more than teenagers when they competed in Athens in 2004.

They were the first women from that war-torn country to compete and they did it for themselves, women, and their country. The best quote I could take from this USA Today article is “This is important,” Robina Muqimyar, the track sprinter, said back then. “The women of Afghanistan will know they can do anything if there is hope in the heart.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment isn’t it? Considering that the three young women who made up that group of hopeful Olympians in 2004 were not much older than my daughter and her friends, who just walked away with 2nd place of 24 U-14 teams in PA this weekend, I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion for them.

It seems that since Athens, these girls have been ridiculed, threatened, beaten and one has actually had to go into hiding. Mehboba Ahdyar, at only 19, was the last women left on the Afghan Olympic team, and she has disappeared. She just vanished while training in Italy in July.

Three women, girls really, tried to promote a better world, but they cannot fight religious militants and extremists and their death threats. To beat a teenage girl because she wants to be an athlete and compete on a world stage should be inexcusable in any culture or religion. What are they beating out of this girl? Only her spirit to succeed.

I think of my daughter, I think of the mothers of these girls in Afghanistan and I think of our own NYIC member, Danny B. stationed to police their border, and I cry. Sports are the one thing that are supposed to bring the world together. That’s the purpose of the Olympics. Those three teenage girls knew that in Athens in 2004. They swallowed their fears and competed.

But this year, in Beijing, it may be more about politics and terrorism than it is about our common human bonds. I am worried. I am worried for one of our softball moms, a woman I have come to know and call friend; a prominent sports editor who will be stationed in Beijing for almost three weeks.

I know she will be thinking of her daughter too while she watches so many other young girls compete for a medal. But she won’t see Mehboba Ahdyar standing on the track with the other young women from so many other countries. And that has to break any mother’s heart.

It would be good for anyone interested in any sport to remember these names.  They should not be forgotten as they represent what really is happening in our world today. We in North America take so much for granted. Sometimes we need to stop and remember how truly grateful we should be.

I'm sure there will be wonderful stories of hope and triumph to come out of this year's summer Olympics. I'm just hoping that's ALL that comes out.  But I'm certainly being unrealistic.