One month after the president of the Afghan Cycling Federation (ACF), his family and other staff members were successfully evacuated from the country following the Taliban’s takeover in August, the ACF continues to bully riders who have come out or are still hoping to escape. who continue to work to evacuate those still in the country, and journalists are investigating the UCI’s selection of the people they brought to safety last month.
In October, after weeks of tireless work and international negotiations, the UCI, along with IsraAid and Israel Start-Up Nation owner Sylvan Adams, got a flight of 125 vulnerable Afghans out and resettled. The UCI, whose election accounted for about half of the seats, included Fazli and his family, relying on the ACF president to prioritize which riders joined the flight.
These decisions have angered the bereaved and have been widely criticized by Afghan cyclists and their supporters, some of whom accused Fazli of prioritizing his family and friends over vulnerable riders.
In a recording shared with Bicycle news, a person identified as Fazli is heard demanding an apology from a group of Afghan riders and threatening to ask the UCI to suspend them for five years because of their criticism of the selection of riders to be evacuated.
“Those who spoke about me in the Facebook group must personally apologize to me, otherwise I will send an email to the UCI to suspend their license for five years,” Fazli said in the message, as rewritten by an independent translator to Bicycle news.
“I know who you are and I will give you a chance to apologize for what you did, otherwise I will send an email to the UCI with the list of your names and you will be suspended.”
When a Bicycle tips‘reporter started contacting riders as part of the investigation into the threats and intimidation, ACF’s response on social media was to dox him by publishing his phone number. They followed up on the publication of the article by guessing the name of the journalist’s anonymous source, calling the report “95% lies and reports without evidence, blind reporting” and threatening legal action.
The UCI and Fazli have not yet responded Bicycle news’ request for comment on the actions of the incumbent ACF President. It is doubtful whether the union actually exists if the leadership has fled the country, but the UCI said last month that it will continue to formally recognize the ACF until further notice.
UCI President David Lappartient took personal responsibility for including Fazli’s family on the flight in an interview with Bicycle news last month, saying he could not get the family separated, pointing to the successful negotiations to expand the flight from 24 to 125 people.
He also confirmed that he consulted with Fazli to determine who should have priority for evacuation.
Still, Fazli – the main representative of a national federation that has received a prestigious award from the UCI – threatened to sanction licensed riders for speaking to the press or being critical of the evacuation choices on social media.
His actions may be considered a violation of the UCI Code of Ethics. However, unless the ACF has adopted a similar code as recommended by the UCI, national federations are not bound by it.
Since the Taliban’s sudden takeover in August, ACF’s social media accounts have shifted from desperate please to help to attempts to discredit those who stepped in to help.
They attacked Farid Noori, who runs MTB Afghanistan, an organization that aimed to make the country’s high mountains a mountain bike destination – and which has since turned to fundraising to evacuate vulnerable riders from Afghanistan.
So do they the attack human rights activist Shannon Galpin, who has been working tirelessly since August to help with evacuation funding and logistics. Following the announcement that she had signed for Team Twenty24, the accounts went after Rukhsar Habibzai – each time falsely claiming that these individuals personally benefited from fundraisers aimed at supporting Afghan cyclists.
It is unclear who has control over the Afghan Cycling Federation’s Instagram and Twitter accounts – Fazli did not answer questions sent by Bicycle news on WhatsApp and email – but the timestamps are in line with anyone in Europe. Noori confirmed Bicycle news he had heard ACF President Fazli Ahmad Fazli make similar allegations of fraud against him on group voice chat.
Fazli has used the ACF channels to communicate with Galpin, as shown by screenshots shared with Bicycle news. Another rider who set up their own cycling club said Fazli was angry that they did not get his permission to make equipment outside the country.
In September, when asked about the allegations of fraud against Galpin, Fazli reaffirmed his position on these independent fundraising efforts to Bicycle news, and said: “We have clearly mentioned that the collection is not used for Afghan cyclists as we are the authorized cycling unit in Afghanistan and if you are raising money.[s] it should be with our approval and cooperation from federations. I’m shocked that there are people who get 100,000 funds in our name, but even they have not contacted us. “
However, neither Noori nor Galpin trust the federation nor Fazli because of the ACF’s history of abuse. Former President Haji Abdul Sediq Seddiqi was removed from office by the President of Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee, Mohammad Zahir Aghbar, who accused Seddiqi of marrying successively and then divorcing three of the young women on his team. Seddiqi also admitted to having misused funds. He died of COVID-19 this year.
According to Noori, Fazli stepped in as president based on his connections with Seddiqi and his role as owner of a travel agency that sponsored races, and questioned Fazli’s understanding of the role of a national federation.
Noori said that when he worked with Specialized to send equipment to a team in Afghanistan, he specifically tried to avoid the federation’s gaze because of the ACF’s past.
“We would like to send it directly to [to the team] due to previous allegations that the former union had sold the bikes and the current one had inherited the remaining bikes that Shannon [Galpin] had brought Afghanistan in, “Noori said Bicycle news.
“The athletes I spoke to said they were locked inside a container and no one is allowed to use them.”
However, Fazli found out about the shipment, and, says Noori, Fazli thought he had the last word on who would get the bikes. After trying to convince Fazli that clubs can operate outside the league, and it is a normal practice in all other countries, Noori gave up trying to convince him.
The Taliban’s takeover unfortunately interrupted plans for the club.
Continued efforts to evacuate and future selections
Although the UCI’s efforts to save the lives of Afghan riders were remarkable, especially the successful visa security at a time when hundreds of evacuees are still in limbo, there are still male and female riders in Afghanistan and neighboring countries who have been cut off. the Afghan federation and is in increasing danger.
Galpin told Bicycle news she had 28 riders and family who were part of the original national team ready to go with passports that did not reach the UCI convoy and have since evacuated 14 of them, but more needs to be done.
The UCI said in a statement: “The evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable Afghan cyclists, particularly women, is still ongoing. We are continuing our efforts to ensure that as many as possible will be brought to safety so they can start a new one. liv. ”
The UCI did not comment on whether Fazli will be consulted with a view to prioritizing riders ahead of future flights, only stating: “the evacuation is still ongoing and information regarding this process will remain confidential to protect the safety of the athletes and those involved. “
Galpin warned the UCI of Fazli’s behavior toward riders before compiling its list of people to be evacuated, and sent an email to Lappartient on September 13, 11 days before the UCI awarded Fazli a UCI merit. The UCI then stopped working with her to identify vulnerable riders and instead took the advice of the federal president, who tried to discredit her.
According to Bicycle tips report, the final list of evacuees gathered by the UCI with Fazli included Fazli’s brother, brother-in-law and his local baker, who Fazli claimed was affiliated with the association.
That Bicycle tips the report gives the impression that there is now a perception among Afghan riders that a UCI license is a requirement to be eligible for evacuation, and Fazli’s threats to have their credentials revoked could jeopardize their chances of getting out .
Lappartient told Bicycle news last month, it would be impossible to suspend any Afghan riders as there is no way to set up a disciplinary commission in Afghanistan.
Sylvan Adams confirmed that UCI status had no bearing on who was selected. “Having a UCI license did not play a role in our consideration of providing assistance to cyclists,” Adams said. Bicycle news.
“With regard to the article in Bicycle tips and especially Shannon’s accusations against the president of the Afghan Cycling Federation, I do not know if these are correct or not; but this played no part in our rescue mission. In fact, when we asked Shannon to compile a list, she included many people who had nothing to do with cycling, which is fine, since a life in danger that we were able to save is a meritorious act, regardless of the person’s affiliation. . “
Fazli may be formally powerless to deprive riders of their status as cyclists, but there are fears that the union’s recent actions could disrupt or demotivate further evacuation efforts, and fear that Fazli is still the sole judge of who a cyclist is and deserves. evacuation and who is not.
Noori urged the UCI to continue efforts to bring the riders out of the country with advice from the riders themselves.
“We know you have the political connections to drive yet another evacuation for Afghan cyclists who are left behind,” Noori wrote to the UCI on Twitter.
“If you do, I will commit all the funds that my fundraiser has raised ($ 150,000 +) to exactly that effort, and will raise some more! But you have to work with credible sources this time, primarily Afghan cyclists, as I am of one of. I hope you will contact me. “