Mehbooba Andyar, Afghan’s only female athlete scheduled to compete at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, disappeared from her training facility in Formia, Italy, on July 4, just weeks before the opening ceremonies. According to Spiegel International, Andyar told her parents she is seeking political asylum in Europe due to death threats spread by extremists who disapprove of women taking part in sports.
Andyar, who has always been seen in a head scarf and full-length body covering, was an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship athlete, paid for by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), according to TIME. The 19-year-old was training with the International Association of Athletics Federation in Italy before she vanished with her bags and passport. The IOC states that they have had no contact with the runner.
The Spiegel International reports that the Afghan Olympic Committee’s deputy chairman Sayed Mahmoud Zia Dashti told the Associated Press last week that Andyar injured her leg. However, Andyars family said that the runner feared reprisal for her internationally recognized sports career and did not plan to return to Afghanistan. Afghan Olympic Committee members have reportedly threatened to hold Andyar’s family responsible if she does not return and possibly throw them in jail.
According to the TIME, Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 games due to the Taliban’s policy of prohibiting women from participating. The 2004 Olympics marked the first time female Afghan athletes competed in the games since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Two female athletes, Robina Muqimyar who ran the 100 meters and Frida Rezihi who competed in judo, were among those competing in 2004. Spiegel International said that while these women were happy to return to Afghanistan, Andyar decided to flee for safety sacrificing her chance to compete in the 2008 summer games.