Nilofar Bayat, the captain of Afghanistan’s wheelchair basketball team who fled from the Taliban, has found a new home in Spain’s Basque Country, and will play for the Bidaideak Bilbao club.
Bayat’s story attracted media attention after she talked about her fears to a Spanish journalist friend, Antonio Pampliega. He posted her story on Twitter, prompting an outpouring of support. The Spanish government and the Spanish basketball federation got involved and Bayat was eventually included in the list of evacuees being helped out by Spain.
Bayat and her husband, Ramish Naik Zai, who is also a basketball player, are among more than 800 Afghans that the Spanish government has so far evacuated from Kabul since the Taliban regime took over the capital. She will now be living and playing in the city of Bilbao.
Bayat was a young girl when her family’s house in Kabul was hit by a rocket during the Taliban regime. The blast injured her spinal cords and killed her brother. She started playing wheelchair basketball and eventually made it to the Afghanistan national team. She had also been active promoting women’s rights and the rights of women with disabilities, which increased her fears of reprisals by the Taliban.
‘The Taliban destroyed all the things that I worked hard (for) in these last years,’ she said in a press conference after arriving in Spain last week. ‘They destroyed just in one day all of my achievement, all of my hard work.’
Bayat was ‘happy to be alive’ and glad to be in a position ‘to start a new life’ with her husband in Spain, but she said she wouldn’t forget her country.
‘I’m just one. The others are still there in the country,’ she said. ‘I want the United Nations, all the countries, to please help Afghanistan. Do not let them be alone, because the Taliban are the same as they were 20 years ago. Now they have all the control.’
The Bidaideak Bilbao club said on Thursday that Bayat and her husband will start practising with the rest of the squad next month. The club, the current Spanish champion, is waiting for their paperwork to be taken care of so it can register them with the local federation.
Bidaideak Bilbao is also trying to help other wheelchair players who were left behind in Afghanistan, including Latifa Sakhizadeh, who contacted the club after hearing news that it had welcomed Bayat. Sakhizadeh is still trying to get to the airport in Kabul to leave Afghanistan, the club said.