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Afghan federation threatens riders, doxxes journalist over evacuation criticisms

Afghanistan Cycling Federation President Fazli Ahmad Fazli with the UCI Merit in September 2021
Afghanistan Cycling Federation President Fazli Ahmad Fazli with the UCI Merit in September 2021 (Image credit: Fazli Ahmad Fazli/Facebook)

One month after the Afghan Cycling Federation (ACF) president, his family, and other staff were successfully evacuated from the country after the Taliban takeover in August, the ACF continues to bully riders who have gotten out or are still hoping to flee, those who continue to work to evacuate those still in the country, and journalists 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 some of them resettled. The UCI, whose selections accounted for roughly half the seats, included Fazli and his family, and relied on the ACF president to prioritize which riders got on the flight.

Those decisions have caused resentment in those left behind and have been vocally criticised 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 Cyclingnews, an individual 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 for their criticism over the selection of riders to be evacuated.

"Those who were talking about me in the Facebook group need personally apologize to me or else I'm going to send an email to the UCI to suspend their license for five years," Fazli says in the message, as paraphrased by an independent translator for Cyclingnews

"I know who you are and I'm going to give you one chance to apologize for what you did, otherwise I'm going to send an email to the UCI with the list of your names and you will be suspended."

When a CyclingTips' reporter started contacting riders as part of the investigation into the threats and intimidation, the ACF's response on social media was to dox him by publishing his phone number. They followed up the publication of the article by guessing the name of the journalist's anonymous source, calling the report "95% lie and reports without proof, blind reporting" and threatening legal action.

The UCI and Fazli have yet to respond to Cyclingnews' request for comment on the actions of the sitting ACF president. It is questionable whether or not the federation actually exists if the leadership has fled the country, but the UCI last month said it would continue to formally recognize the ACF for the time being.

UCI President David Lappartient took personal responsibility for including Fazli's family on the flight in an interview with Cyclingnews last month, saying he could not have the family separated and pointed to the successful negotiations to expand the flight from 24 to 125 people.

He also confirmed that he consulted with Fazli in determining who should get the priority for evacuation.

Yet Fazli - the main representative of a national federation who has been given a prestigious award by the UCI - threatened to sanction licensed riders for speaking to the press or being critical of the evacuation selections on social media. 

His actions could be considered a violation of the UCI Code of Ethics. However, unless the ACF had adopted a similar code as the UCI recommends, national federations are not bound by it. 

Fundraisers

Women's Cycling in Afghanistan

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since the Taliban's sudden takeover in August the ACF's social media accounts have shifted from desperate please for help to attempts to discredit those who stepped in to help.

They attacked Farid Noori, who runs MTB Afghanistan, an organisation that aimed to turn the high mountains of the country into a mountain biking destination - and who have since turned to fundraising to evacuate vulnerable riders from Afghanistan. 

They've also attacked human rights activist Shannon Galpin who has worked tirelessly since August to assist in evacuation funding and logistics. After the announcement she had signed for Team Twenty24, the accounts went after Rukhsar Habibzai - each time falsely claiming these individuals were personally benefiting from fundraisers aimed at supporting Afghan cyclists.

It is unclear who is in control of the Afghan Cycling Federation's Instagram and Twitter accounts - Fazli did not reply to questions sent by Cyclingnews on WhatsApp and email - but the time stamps are in line with someone in Europe. Noori confirmed to Cyclingnews he had heard ACF president Fazli Ahmad Fazli make similar accusations of fraud against him on group voice chats. 

Fazli has used the ACF channels to communicate with Galpin, as evidenced by screenshots shared with Cyclingnews. Another rider who set up their own cycling club said Fazli was angry they did not get his permission to do source equipment from outside the country.

In September, when asked about the accusations of fraud against Galpin, Fazli confirmed his stance on these independent fundraising efforts to Cyclingnews, saying: "We have clearly mentioned that the fundraising are not used for Afghan cyclists as we are the authorized entity for cycling in Afghanistan and if you are raising any fund[s] it should be with our approval and cooperation of federation. I am shocked that there are people getting 100k funds on our name but even they not contacted us."

However, neither Noori nor Galpin trust the federation or Fazli because of the ACF's history of malfeasance. The previous president, Haji Abdul Sediq Seddiqi, was removed from his post by the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee president Mohammad Zahir Aghbar who accused Seddiqi of successively marrying and then divorcing three of the young women on his team. Seddiqi also admitted to misappropriating 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 wanted to send it directly to [to the team] because of the previous allegations that the former federation had sold the bikes, and the current one had inherited the remaining bikes that Shannon [Galpin] had brought in Afghanistan," Noori told Cyclingnews

"The athletes I spoke to said they were locked in a shipping container and nobody is allowed to use them."

However, Fazli found out about the shipment and, Noori says, Fazli thought he had final say on who would get the bikes. After trying to convince Fazli that clubs can operate outside the federation and it is a normal practice in every other country, Noori gave up trying to convince him. 

The Taliban takeover unfortunately interrupted plans for the club.

Continuing efforts to evacuate and future selections

Women riding in Afghanistan

(Image credit: Afghanistan Cycling Federation)

Although the UCI's efforts to save the lives of Afghan riders were remarkable, in particular successfully securing of visas at a time when hundreds of evacuees are still in limbo, there are still male and female riders in Afghanistan and bordering countries who have been cut off by the Afghan federation and are in increasing peril.

Galpin told Cyclingnews she had 28 riders and family that were part of the original national team ready to go with passports that did not make the UCI convoy and has since evacuated 14 of them but more still needs to be done.

The UCI said in a statement: "The evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable Afghan cyclists, in particular women, is still ongoing. We continue our efforts to make sure that as many as possible will be brought to safety so they can start a new life," 

The UCI did not comment on whether Fazli is being consulted for prioritization for riders ahead of future flights, stating only: "the evacuation is still ongoing and information concerning this process will remain confidential to protect the safety of the athletes and the people involved."

Galpin warned the UCI of Fazli's behaviour toward riders before it assembled its list of individuals to evacuate, sending 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 federation president who sought to discredit her.

According to the CyclingTips report, the final list of evacuees assembled by the UCI with Fazli included Fazli's brother, brother-in-law and his local baker who Fazli claimed were affiliated with the federation.

The CyclingTips report gives a sense that there is a now the perception among Afghan riders that a UCI license is a requirement to be eligible for evacuation and Fazli's threats of getting their credentials revoked could jeopardize their chance of getting out.

Lappartient told Cyclingnews last month it would be impossible to suspend any Afghan riders considering 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 played no role in our consideration to provide assistance to the cyclists," Adams told Cyclingnews.

"Regarding the article in CyclingTips and in particular, Shannon’s accusations against the President of the Afghan Cycling federation, I don’t know whether these are accurate or not; but this played no role in our rescue mission. In fact, when we asked Shannon to prepare a list, she included many individuals who had nothing to do with cycling, which is fine, given that a life in danger that we were able to save is a meritorious act, irrespective of the person’s affiliation."

Fazli may be formally powerless to strip riders of their status as cyclists but there are fears that the recent actions of the federation might disrupt or demotivate further evacuation efforts, and fears Fazli is still the sole arbiter of who is a cyclist and deserving of evacuation and who is not.

Noori called on the UCI to continue the effort to bring riders out of the country with the advice from the riders themselves.

"We know you have the political connections to drive another evacuation for Afghan cyclists who are left behind," Noori wrote to the UCI on Twitter. 

"If you do that, I’ll commit all the funds my fundraiser has raised ($150K+) for exactly that effort, & will raise some more! But you have to work trustworthy sources this time, primarily Afghan cyclists, of which I am one of. I hope you will get in touch with me."

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.