KABUL, Afghanistan — Women’s sports programs in Afghanistan, long a favorite of Western donors, have all but collapsed.
Some consist of little more than a young woman with a business card and a desk, as one insider described the women’s version of cricket, Afghanistan’s most popular game. Others, like women’s soccer, have managed to field a few teams for practices and training sessions but have not played an international match in years.
Even the relatively few encouraging stories, like women’s taekwondo, one of the sports that may see an Afghan woman sent to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, are at best qualified successes. Afghanistan’s strongest hope for a female taekwondo medalist, Somaya Ghulami, 23, actually lives in Iran and commutes to practice sessions here. She said she would never be able to compete if she had to live in her own country.
It is a conspicuous failure for Western efforts to improve the lives of Afghan women. With few exceptions, the sports programs have become riddled with corruption and been undermined by conservative Afghans who have never liked the idea of young women on sports fields.
One of the main supporters of women’s sports in Afghanistan is the American government, which spends $1.5 million a year on coeducational sports programs — not counting a $450,000 cricket grant that officials took back when they realized no women’s cricket was being played. American officials, however, declined to discuss women’s sports on the record.
While all women’s sports here are suffering, none have failed quite as spectacularly as the women’s national cycling team. Celebrated in documentaries, and the subject of a 2014 book and a blizzard of news articles, the team was recently nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize — thanks to the tireless promotion of its benefactor, Shannon Galpin, who financed the team through her Colorado-based charity, Mountain to Mountain.
However, Ms. Galpin announced on her web page last month that she would no longer support the Afghan Cycling Federation because of what she described as “out of control” corruption by the team’s longtime coach and the head of the federation, Haji Abdul Sediq Seddiqi.