Afghan and Ukraine refugee cyclists pose with senior members of the UCI and IOC. (Photo: UCI)

Afghan cyclist abuse allegedly continuing from UCI HQ in Switzerland

A formal complaint reveals scale of abuse and trauma, as UCI outlines its plans to host Afghan Women's Championships.

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Days after the UCI outlined its plans to host the Afghan Women’s Road Cycling Championships from its base in Aigle, Switzerland, troubling new allegations of ongoing abuse have come to light.

A complaint submitted to the UCI Ethics Commission – viewed by CyclingTips – contains allegations that members of the Afghan Cycling Federation continue to discriminate against female cyclists and members of the Hazara religious minority. The alleged perpetrators include Fazli Ahmad Fazli, who is hosted in Switzerland by the UCI.

The long, troubling timeline detailed in the complaint stretches back to the UCI-led evacuation of a convoy of Afghan cyclists in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan.

That evacuation was seen as a courageous humanitarian accomplishment, and – as can be seen in the UCI’s latest plans – is a positive PR opportunity the organisation continues to draw on.

The evacuation was also a centrepiece moment of the 2021 UCI Congress, with Fazli Ahmad Fazli – the Afghan Cycling Federation’s president since 2019 – being awarded a UCI Merit for his “courageous commitment to the development of cycling, notably women’s cycling, in a country where fighting for this cause is a risk” and “dedicat[ing] his life” to the cause. Fazli – along with many of those in the convoy – received Swiss visas and accommodation.  

But, multiple sources allege, all was not as it seemed.

A brutal backstory

The glittering PR moment was soon undermined by allegations – first reported by CyclingTips – that as few as five cyclists were among the 165-odd people evacuated. According to multiple sources, Fazli manipulated the lists to include family members, friends and business associates – while simultaneously excluding legitimate cyclists and discriminating against the Hazara minority. [Fazli denies these allegations.]

Since CyclingTips broke that story in November 2021, independent reports from CyclingNews and a major Swiss current affairs TV show, Rundschau, have come to similar conclusions. The UCI responded with a claim that an unspecified “ill-intentioned person has been trying to denigrate all that has been achieved”.

CyclingTips contacted the UCI to clarify that six independent sources had confirmed details for the original story. We also voiced concerns for the safety of sources, offering supporting evidence of threats against cyclists. The UCI did not respond.

Screenshot: CyclingNews.

Soon after, one of CyclingTips’ sources, Amin – who was in hiding in Pakistan – says he was kidnapped and detained for four days, during which he was repeatedly doused in cold water, denied food and water, and beaten. He believes that this was retribution, ordered by Fazli, for speaking out. Further leaked WhatsApp voice messages revealed an individual identified as Fazli threatening or ridiculing members of the Afghan cycling community, warning them not to speak to reporters, and claiming that he was working on future evacuation convoys that never came. 

CyclingTips published many of these details in a follow-up feature in February 2022, and a podcast later that month. Despite multiple requests for comment, the UCI has provided no response since last November – no acknowledgement of the multiple serious abuse allegations, perpetrated by the UCI Merit-awarded president of the Afghan Cycling Federation, who continues to govern in absentia from the headquarters of the UCI itself.

Where are we now?

Seven months after the allegations were first revealed, the UCI appears to be continuing to back Fazli. Indeed, CyclingTips understands that UCI President David Lappartient himself has actively sought to undermine and criticise any reporting into Fazli’s alleged misdeeds.

Meanwhile, the UCI has pushed forward with a ‘Cycling Integrity’ initiative, “because every member of the cycling community, whether a rider or not, must benefit from a safe environment, free from harassment or other abuse, in which they feel respected.”

Against the backdrop of months of apparent inaction, and in the context of further claims of abuse, a complaint incorporating testimony of more than a dozen accusers has been lodged with the UCI Ethics Commission – an independent body that officiates on violations of the UCI’s Code of Ethics. This document – viewed by CyclingTips – presents the abuse allegations already uncovered by our reporting, but also alleges continuing threats against Afghan cyclists. 

This includes menacing messages purportedly sent by Fazli to those speaking out against him. “Be aware that I have a lot of friends in Afghanistan. If you want yourself and your family to not be harmed, stay calm and don’t raise your voice,” reads one. “I am going to find you soon, and know this … I won’t stay calm until I see your dead bodies,” reads another.

A cyclist is silhouetted against the setting sun as Taliban flags flies on poles along a road in Kabul in late 2021. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi / AFP via Getty Images)

According to the Ethics Commission complaint, numerous cyclists allege that Fazli himself has Taliban connections which put the cyclists at real risk of harm. Since our last report, several Afghan cyclists have been captured and beaten by the Taliban, who were in one case seeking information on the whereabouts of a critic of Fazli. CyclingTips has also viewed messages, allegedly from Fazli, claiming that “the people of the Emirate [ed. Taliban] are my own.”

Worse, ongoing alleged abuse isn’t just happening from Switzerland, but within it – at the UCI’s World Cycling Centre, which houses the Afghan evacuees.

The Ethics Commission complaint states that three female members of the cohort in Switzerland have expressed concerns for their safety. One cyclist alleges that Fazli has verbally abused her and two Hazara teammates, referring to them as ‘dog’, ‘infidel’ and ‘whore’, requiring them to wear hijabs, and imposing curfews. Fearful of continued deterioration, they claim to have sought support from immigration charities in Switzerland. One of the female cyclists alleges that when she raised her concerns with representatives of the UCI, they responded that if she was unhappy, she should go back to Afghanistan.

A female cyclist rides in Afghanistan, prior to the Taliban’s return. Since then, female cyclists have been burning their gear and forced into hiding to avoid persecution.

Meanwhile, as recently as late April, Fazli was involved in media events at the UCI, including a function highlighting the UCI’s efforts to house and support refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. In an April 22 press release, Fazli is pictured standing between IOC president Thomas Bach and Swiss politician, Philippe Leuba. 

On that day, Lappartient underlined the UCI’s commitment to the “wellbeing of the entire cycling family” and the need to put the organisation’s facilities at the disposal of athletes “who were in danger in their own countries. It is important that these young cyclists feel supported, and I am sure that the discussions and activities that took place here in Aigle will reinforce their feeling of security.”

The timeline for the UCI Ethics Commission to deliver a finding is not known. For the thirteenth consecutive time since last November, the UCI did not respond to a request for comment.

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