Australia Taekwondo pointed out that the remarkable story of eight taekwondo athletes who fled Afghanistan and found refuge in Australia would never have happened without Ali Rahimi, owner of the World Taekwondo Center in Cranbourne, Victoria.
Rahimi is no stranger to the dangers and upheavals of life in a war-torn country after fleeing Taliban-controlled Afghanistan more than a decade ago.
Rahimi explains “when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and the previous government collapsed, everyone was worried about the situation, especially for women and girls who practiced sport.
“I was worried about the Afghan athletes and activists. I wanted to do something. I received a phone call from one of the women’s national team members asking me for help. She said we were hiding somewhere in Kabul and trying to get out of Afghanistan, but we can’t. Can you help me?
“I said, okay, let me think about it and I’ll see what we can do for you.”
Rahimi phoned Australian Taekwondo, and within hours of that call the rescue mission, a 25-day operation, began.
Rahimi advises “I spoke to Heather [Garriock] and explained the situation to him. She said, how can we help them? I said, you know Craig Foster, and he tries to get footballers out. Heather said, okay, let me talk to her. Later she called me back and told me to arrange the girl’s details.”
“I was up all night preparing documentation. I was talking to the girls all the time, day and night, and Heather was in the same position.
“The process of arranging official travel documents was one thing, but getting the girls across the border safely was an ordeal in its own right.
“The girls were in Kabul, and they had to go from Kabul to the Pakistani border. It wasn’t safe to go all the way from Kabul to Kandahar, then Kandahar, to the border. However, they had to go that way. , so they went.”
“It was very difficult for them to cross the border. The Pakistani officials and the Taliban didn’t let them cross the border initially. They got an alert from the Australian officials and then I think the Australian government contacted the officials. Pakistani, then they write a letter for them to cross the border.”
“It was one of the hardest times because the girls were at the border and then Pakistani officials tried to push them back into Afghanistan, and this side was Taliban. It was a very scary, very scary situation. .”
The Australian High Commission and its security picked up the girls at the border and took them to Islamabad before flying to Darwin, where they self-quarantined for 14 days en route to Melbourne. Though thrilled with the end result, Rahimi didn’t feel overly optimistic at the start of the operation.
“It wasn’t that easy. I really didn’t think it would be a success. I didn’t think the girls were going to come to Australia so quickly and safely.
“That was the main concern for me, the safety of girls traveling from Kabul to the Pakistani border. Crossing the Pakistani border is not easy for women, it’s not a safe thing to do. So it was the main concern, really, for me.”
Since arriving in Melbourne, the support from the Victorian taekwondo community and the Afghan community has been overwhelming and has made settling into Australian life comfortable and welcoming.
“Since they arrived in Melbourne, I have witnessed great support from the communities, from the taekwondo coaches and taekwondo players, and from the Afghan community. They have really, really, very wisely and extensively supported them, with everything, taekwondo equipment, dinners, They have a house now and they have everything in the house thanks to the community.
“I mean I’m proud of some really great people; they’ve done an amazing job.”
While the girls adjust to a safer life and more opportunities in Australia, their families remain in Afghanistan; however, Rahimi has since become the legal guardian of Fatima, who is only 16 years old.
“It’s the hardest and saddest part of the story; they have regular contact with families and talk to their mums and dads all the time. Their mums and dads worry about them. I spoke to one of them about three weeks ago, and she was very worried about the girls, and I said to them, listen, they’re very safe in Australia, don’t worry about them.
The group is now focused on training and competing in taekwondo and plans to compete in various state and national competitions throughout 2022.
Rahimi adds “they had a dream of representing Afghanistan on the international stage, and that dream, unfortunately, was destroyed by the Taliban; it is now their dream to do it for Australia.”
“Since they moved here, they started training in my gym, and now they train in my club. I’m very happy with what they’re trying to achieve and the way they think; c is very exciting for everyone.”
January 18, 2022 – Australian Taekwondo to unveil new brand identity at National Championships
January 17, 2022 – Melbourne’s new Combat Performance Center will benefit Australia’s elite taekwondo and judo athletes
December 13, 2021 – Australian High Performance Taekwondo Program Appoints New Coach
13 October 2021 – First Australian Taekwondo Representative elected to the World Taekwondo Executive Council
September 23, 2021 – Successful rescue mission sees seven Afghan female taekwondo athletes arrive in Melbourne
September 15, 2021 – Australian Taekwondo appoints new communications manager
September 12, 2020 – Former Matilda Heather Garriock named new Australian Taekwondo Chief Executive
August 10, 2020 – Australian Boxing, Judo and Taekwondo NSOs create new High Performance Collective Entity
June 24, 2017 – World Taekwondo Federation changes name due to “negative connotations”
September 19, 2014 – Australian Sports Commission recognizes new unified national taekwondo body
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