NEW DELHI : Sadia Bromand is happy to show off her short hair, sports a few tattoos and boxes with the hope of representing her country in the Olympics – not everyone’s taste, but all perfectly normal for a modern women of her age.
What sets the 27-year-old apart is that all those features would cause her big trouble in Afghanistan, had she not fled her homeland 3-1/2 years ago ahead of the Taliban takeover.
Bromand wore many hats in Afghanistan, from published poet to radio talkshow host and featherweight boxer, but it was her work as a sports journalist that led to her exile in Germany.
A series of reports in 2019 on the sexual abuse of Afghan female footballers made her parents fear for her safety.
“After the scandal broke, I went to Italy to attend a sports conference and from there to Germany,” Bromand told Reuters, speaking through her coach, Yawari Amaun at a New Delhi hotel.
“My father was worried and told me not to return to Afghanistan for my own safety.”
Once the Taliban reclaimed power in 2021, returning home ceased to be an option for the lone Afghan boxer who is attending the women’s world championships in the Indian capital.
The Taliban rulers have effectively blocked women’s access to education and sports, keeping open only primary schools for girls.
Bromand was forced into exile to hold on to her dream of becoming the first Afghan female boxer to compete in the Olympics.
That dream was fuelled by visits as a teenager to the Olympic facility in Kabul where there was a picture of Rohullah Nikpai, who won the nation’s only Olympic medals, both bronzes, in Taekwondo at the 2008 and 2012 Games.
“I used to get inspired by him and wanted to see a woman reaching farther than him, achieving a gold medal for Afghanistan and having her photo above Rohullah Nikpai,” she recalled.
Life in Berlin is lot freer than it was in Kabul, Bromand said. She does not have to wear a hijab over her hair nor adhere to the strict evening curfew set by her father.
“I was so stressed about timing,” she said. “My father used to be very strict about when to return home. “But no matter where I live, that sense of imprisonment is always there.”
Bromand lost her opening round bout to Turkey’s Elif Nur Turhan on Sunday, but risks a lot more every time she steps into the ring.
“I’m here without hijab and in boxing gear, so my parents were really worried,” she said. “They were saying if the Taliban rulers see an Afghan woman like that, they may imprison my father.”
Bromand is grateful for everything she has received in Germany but still nurses a sense of loss.
“You can find everything in Germany, except my mother and my best friend Faheema. I really miss them a lot, though we speak regularly,” she added.
“Also, Afghanistan is really warm, and Berlin is very cold. I miss that weather.”
Restarting life in Berlin has not been easy but Bromand tries to stay motivated. She plays guitar and finds solace in music. Her room is adorned with posters of her idols, such as boxing great Muhammad Ali.
STRESSED AND OVERWHELMED
Then there are the inspirations she carries wherever she is.
The tattoo on her right arm reads “Nothing Is Impossible,” while the one on the left is “Yes, I can,” under the five Olympic rings.
Two more, on her ankles, read, “Fly” and “Freedom”.
“Each of them has a meaning,” she said. “I also have a tattoo that simply says, ‘Smile’.
“All the time when I was in Afghanistan, I was always stressed and overwhelmed. This is to remind myself to be happy and smile, no matter what.”
Bromand says she is regularly contacted by Afghan girls who want to play sport and seek help either to train in Afghanistan or leave.
“Before the Taliban took over, I really wanted to visit Afghanistan and build a proper facility where girls could train with me. But everything’s over,” Bromand added.
“We have a lot of good athletes. But unfortunately, the environment is not right. Since the Taliban took over, most of those girls have stopped training and are just at home doing nothing. It really depresses me.”