Masomah Ali Zada named to IOC Refugee Olympic Team bound for Tokyo

Afghanistans riders Masomah and Zahra Ali Zada take part in a cycling training session with their little brother Ali Reza on June 28 2017 in Guehenno western France. Masomah and Zahra Ali Zada two Afghan refugees passionate about cycling and in danger in their country of origin were welcomed in Brittany by the French family of Thierry Communal. Their dreams participate in the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 and become the first Afghan women medallists.
Afghanistans riders Masomah and Zahra Ali Zada take part in a cycling training session with their little brother Ali Reza in western France in 2017 (Image credit: Getty Images)

The International Olympic Committee announced Tuesday the 29 athletes selected to the IOC Refugee Olympic Team bound for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Masomah Ali Zada, from Afghanistan, will compete in the women's individual time trial held on July 28.

She is one of two cyclists named to the team, alongside Ahmad Badreddin Wais from Syria, who will compete in the men's individual time trial held on the same day.

"For my country, I think that I am the only girl who is going to take part in the Olympic Games in cycling," Masomah Ali Zada, 24, said in an video interview published on Tuesday. 

"There haven't been any before, but I want to show all the men who thought that cycling isn't a women's thing, that I have made it all the way through to the Olympics. And if I can do it, any woman who wants to be involved in cycling, they can do it, from any country, like Afghanistan.

"It is quite simply a passion, it's our choice to wear any kind of clothing, whatever we feel comfortable in. And above all for Afghanistan, it's for all the countries like Afghanistan where they think that women have no rights to be involved in cycling, I'd like to prove that it's not true and we have the right to cycle."

Masomah Ali Zada and her sister Zahra were subjects in a documentary on French TV channel Arte called Les Petites Reines de Kaboul (The Little Queens of Kabul)  that aired in 2016. 

Masomah and Zahra were featured as part of Afghanistan's first national women's cycling team and the film documented the challenges of cycling as a female in Afghanistan. Masomah said that she was threatened, insulted and had stones thrown at her while she was cycling in her country, all done to try to stop her from riding a bike.

"In Afghanistan, men think it's unsuitable for a woman to ride a bike, and the Taliban have banned us from sport," Masomah said in a 2017 interview with France24.  "I have never given up on the bike, but I want to encourage girls to do it, and women's cycling is becoming commonplace in Afghanistan."

Masomah and Zahra, along with their parents and three brothers, had settled as refugees in France under a humanitarian visa, and submitted an asylum application that was accepted in 2017 with the assistance of retired French lawyer Patrick Communal.

"On a bike, you have the feeling of freedom, that nobody tells you that you can't do this or that because you are a woman," Masomah said in a recent interview with Marca.

The sisters are now enrolled at the University of Lille, and Masomah was invited on the IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship programme.

Masomah's aim was to earn a spot at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020, which were postponed due to COVID-19, and the date moved to take place this summer. 

"I never thought that I would make it all the way to the Olympics but I kept cycling," Masomah said in the newly-published video interview. "For example, I didn't hold out hope, I didn't think that I would have the possibility of going to the Olympics, but I kept on dreaming, I kept on cycling and I tried to work hard. And now I have done it.

"So if you have a dream, you need to work at it and keep it going, even if you think that it won't be possible, maybe you'll get there like I did.

The IOC Refugee Olympic Team was launched ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. At a virtual ceremony on Tuesday, Masomah was one of 29 athletes named to the team that will compete in Tokyo .

“Congratulations to all of you," said IOC President Thomas Bach. "I speak on behalf of the entire Olympic Movement when I say that we cannot wait to meet you in person and to see you compete in Tokyo. When you, the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and the athletes from the National Olympic Committees from all over the globe, finally come together in Tokyo on 23 July, it will send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience and hope to the world. You are an integral part of our Olympic community, and we welcome you with open arms.”

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Kirsten Frattini
Women's Editor

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.