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On The Long Game, we highlight stories of courage and conviction on and off the field. From athletes who are breaking barriers for women and girls to a Syrian refugee swimmer who overcame the odds to compete at the Paralympics, the show examines the power of sport to change the world for the better. A production of FP and Doha Debates

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Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first Muslim American woman in hijab to compete and medal for the United States in the Olympic Games. An activist, entrepreneur and New York Times best-selling author, Ibtihaj continues to be an important figure in a larger global discussion on equality and the importance of sport.

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Episode 1

Olympic Judoka Fights for Women in Afghanistan

+ReadClose transcript

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:05] Since August, tens of thousands of people have fled Afghanistan. [00:00:08][3.1]

Newsclip: [00:00:10] "The sudden capture of the country's capital has shocked the world and caused bedlam this morning at the Kabul airport, where thousands of Afghans are struggling to get on." [00:00:17][7.8]

Newsclip: [00:00:19] "People are literally clinging on to U.S. military aircraft as they try to take off. As far as commercial ... " [00:00:25][5.8]

Friba Rezayee: [00:00:25] Now, with all the athletes leaving the country, all the educated people are leaving the country, I have a concern that the legacy of education and the legacy of sport will leave with them. If education and sport die in a society, what will remain in the society? It will be an empty, meaningless society. [00:00:49][23.4]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:51] From Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. This is The Long Game, a podcast about the power of sports to change the world. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. As an African-American, as a Muslim, from birth, you are political. Sports is how I learned to advocate for myself. It's where I found my voice. And this season on The Long Game, we're going to hear from other athletes who are using their voices to create meaningful change in this world. [00:01:18][26.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:01:25] Friba Rezayee knows what it's like to leave her country. She did it once as a child when the Taliban first took over Afghanistan. Friba returned in 2001. She started training in the sport of judo. And in 2004, she became the first woman to represent Afghanistan in the Olympics. But just a year later, Friba was forced to leave Afghanistan again. Friba spent several years in Pakistan and relocated to Canada in 2011. There, she worked tirelessly to support Afghan women in sports and education. Her mission is to help create her country's future leaders. But now that the Taliban is back in power, what's to become of Friba's dream of gender equality in Afghanistan? Here's Friba: [00:02:12][47.2]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:02:17] I always believed that everybody is equal, everybody's the same, everybody should be respected. And I was a very hardheaded child during Eid - Muslim families' festival, like Christmas - my mother made a joke that we are getting new clothes for the boys, but not for the girls, just to tease me. And one of my brother confirmed that, and I slapped him very hard. And I was only five years old. I did not like being treated like that even for a second as a joke, because to me, it didn't make any sense. I was like, 'If I am born, if I exist, I should have the same rights as my brothers.". [00:03:00][43.9]

Friba Rezayee: [00:03:04] I was born in Afghanistan, in the capital of Kabul. I was born in a big family. I had three sisters and four brothers. Given the Afghan society and Afghan culture and perspective towards women and girls, there was no gender equality. Boys and girls were always separated, and that always bothered me, because I did not see any fun in playing with the dolls or like sitting at home, like playing kitchen or like tea party. I was a very outdoor person. I always wanted to be very active. Always very - what do we call a "boyish" games? I was not allowed to go outside and play soccer with the boys, but I did. I was not allowed to go to just hang out with the boys outside, and I always got in trouble. But I always did that, because I wanted to set a precedent as a child for my existence and for my rights. My father always supported me, he's a very supportive that he always loved us, no matter what we did, and he always supported us, no matter what we did. My mother had the expectation from me that I would grow up, and I would get married early age. I would bear children, and I would become an obedient housewife, and I would become a good mother - a mother of probably six or seven children in Afghanistan. And I will have a very small and traditional life. She always expected that from me, but when I turned out to be the opposite, she was disappointed at the beginning. She wasn't happy when I played sport, when I went to my dojo, when I went for boxing. She was upset with me, and there were times that whenever I came home from my judo training, in order to make her happy, I would immediately go do the chores, do the laundry, wash the dishes, clean house to make her happy. But later, after the Olympics, she was realizing that this is what I wanted to do, and she supported me after that. [00:05:13][128.4]

Newsclip: [00:05:17] "What appears to be happening is that the Taliban are advancing ... " [00:05:19][2.7]

Friba Rezayee: [00:05:21] In 1995, when the Taliban took over the central government for the first time, my family became refugees, and we went to a neighboring country, Pakistan, and we went to Peshawar is the closest province to the Afghan border. Small refugee house, and we had cable at that time in a very - we had a very small glass TV. My brothers always watched Mike Tyson matches. They were a huge fan of heavy boxing, and I always watched those matches with them. And I also watched Laila Ali, the daughter of Muhammad Ali. [00:05:58][37.3]

Newsclip: [00:05:58] "Introducing the undefeated Laila "She Be Stingin'' Ali!" [00:06:04][6.0]

Friba Rezayee: [00:06:07] Seeing her fight like that, be very strong and very confident, that really spoke to me, and I wanted to do the same thing. I wanted to train hard, I wanted to practice hard, and I wanted to challenge her. In my mind, she was my idol and icon, as well as my opponent secretly like, "I am going to go train hard, and I'm going to challenge her." [00:06:31][24.0]

Newsclip: [00:06:42] "On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan." [00:06:52][9.7]

Friba Rezayee: [00:06:54] When the U.S.A. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, my family returned to Afghanistan immediately, like so many other Afghan families. And when we went back to Afghanistan, we started a normal life - everybody was expecting a normal life. I was enrolled in all-girls school. My brothers were enrolled in school. My dad got a job. My older brother got a job with the UN, so life was good. I was still very, very interested in pursuing my boxing dream. One of my sports teacher introduced me to the Afghan National Olympic Committee. They assigned a male boxing coach. He trained me. He agreed to train me, and he did. He trained me for a few weeks, but it was becoming very, very dangerous in Afghanistan to train boxing, because I was the only girl practicing in the entire country at that time. One day my coach called me, and he said that he can no longer train me, because it's not safe anymore. There were a few religious and fundamentalist guys who were waiting for me to come for the training to hurt me. They were waiting there with knives, with flogs and so many other tools to capture me and to hurt me. When I insisted that I wanted to train because I had a dream to go to Las Vegas, fight Laila Ali - when I insisted on the phone that I know I want to continue my training, my coach said that sport is not valuable than your life. And he hung up the phone. There was no way for me that I could continue my boxing, but I was still in search of finding a sports center in Afghanistan where I could go and train, and I found out there was a place where they trained girls. This was a small dujo. I run towards the dujo, and I was only 16 years old. I was like full of energy. There was dust in my hair, on my shoes, and I met my coach Farhad Hazrati, who's still my coach with a like. sharp breath. And I told him that, "Coach, I want you to train me boxing, because I want to challenge Laila Ali." He just stared at me, and he was like, "OK, come in." He trained me boxing for a few days, but he later told me, "We don't train boxing here, but we trained judo." As soon as I walked in on the judo mats, when my feet touched the mats, I knew that this is it. This is how I will find my strength as well as my freedom. [00:09:36][162.2]

Friba Rezayee: [00:09:38] We were only three teenagers practicing judo in the entire country. There were other girls, but they were very young. We were peers. We wanted to support each other, and we wanted to encourage other girls. And we knew that this is not only sport for us, this is how we bring visibility to our rights. I wanted to show and prove it to the Afghan society that women and girls are as strong as boys and men, and we can do it and also show it to the world that Afghanistan has such girls and such women who are fighting for their rights, who are working very hard to normalize women's rights. So it was very significant. It was very precious to us. In judo, we have a philosophy by saying "tai sabaki" in Japanese, which means the control of your body, and that is, itself, is very empowering. Once you have control of your body, mind, you have control of your life, and then you can lead. And you can lead as an example for the rest of the people in the community. I was very proud to be able to train and lead the kids at the dojo, and I was also gaining respect. So the the connection between the sport and women's leadership is very significant, very strong. You can't separate the two. [00:11:05][87.1]

Friba Rezayee: [00:11:07] National Olympic Committee was getting ready to send Afghanistan's team to the Olympics, and I was selected to represent Afghanistan and represent women at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. That itself was a huge achievement for me. I was honored. I was privileged to be able to represent my country. And I competed against a four-times world champion from Spain. I enter the mat. I wanted - I wanted to win. I did not win and I was very upset. I was crying hysterically, and I called my family members, especially my father and one of my brother and I - I was crying on the phone, and I told my father that, "I'm so sorry I did not win, I let you down." But my father said that, "Don't worry if you don't didn't win, you made history. This is like first tep on the moon." That was very encouraging, and that made me feel better. That was it. History was made. I became the first Afghan woman to participate in the Olympics. That was a very proud moment. I'm still proud of it, and I'm still hold that very precious to me. [00:12:26][78.6]

Friba Rezayee: [00:12:30] When I returned from the Olympics, I was still at high school, and I went back to high school to continue my classes. One of my teachers - she was very, very nice, and she was very kind to me. And she gathered a group of girls to sing the national anthem to me. And they did. It was very sweet, very nice. Imagine those girls in their black and white uniform, and they stood in front of me. They sang the national anthem, and my teacher was very supporting, and she gave me a big hug, and she kissed my forehead. And she said that, "You are pride of our country." When I returned to my dojo, the number of enrollment at the judo and judo sport at the dojo increased. There were a lot of, like I would say hundreds of girls and women who wanted to play sport, and this was the sports revolution for Afghan women. It opened a pathway for other Afghan girls to play other sports. So many other girls joined different sports: volleyball, basketball, soccer. You name it, Afghan women that. And this was also a message to the world that there are women and girls in Afghanistan who are fighting for their rights, and they want Afghanistan to be same as the rest of the world. [00:13:50][79.5]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:13:59] You're listening to The Long Game, From Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. And now back to Friba Rezayee and her story about women and sports in Afghanistan. [00:14:18][19.1]

Friba Rezayee: [00:14:26] I was receiving death threats from the fundamentalists, from the religious people and also from patriarchy. They said that this is un-Islamic. This is untraditional of Afghan girls to compete at international arena and not cover her head, show some skin. Although judo uniform is very covered, it has long jacket and very covered pants. I did not have a typical Afghan girl look. I cut my hair very short, like boys haircut, and I died it red. And I refused to cover my head, and I would - I would go outside and walk like that, and that put me on the spot. So I was a little bit famous in the local community. These people were sending me threatening messages by text messages, phone calls as well as they dropped letters at our house. People would verbally abuse me, physically abused me, and I was under a lot of threats that I could not even go outside. I would just stay at home. I went into hiding, I went into hiding for a couple of months for my and for my family's safety. What drove me to Canada is is the freedom to be able to practice and to be able to do whatever I want to do. There is no limits. I have always wanted to help other Afghan women to get their education and as well as they have access to sports and sports leadership. In 2018, myself with other activists as well as university professors, we came together, and we formed the Women Leaders of Tomorrow. Our first objective is to find scholarships and bursaries for young qualified Afghan women from Afghanistan to North American universities. And our second component is our sports component GOAL, G-O-AL, which stands for Girls of Afghanistan Lead. The goal was to train these girls professionally and at highest level possible, so they become their community leaders, they become professional athletes, or become the sports instructors, especially judo instructor, because in Afghanistan, we don't have a prominent female judo coach. and we provide online mentorship as well as English language training, an English language program for the Afghan women and girls in Afghanistan. The goal and the purpose of this is that so Afghan women learn the international language, and they can speak for themselves in their own words, because it's crucial for us to hear the authentic stories from Afghanistan from those women directly. This project was a very, very successful, and we were producing leaders, we were achieving our goals, but we had so many plans, including the plan to send our team to 2024 Olympic Games. And the girls were still practicing, and they practiced judo on the mats until the day that the Taliban returned. [00:17:34][188.4]

Newsclip: [00:17:36] "The Taliban are now in complete control of Afghanistan. The sudden capture of the country's capital has shocked the world." [00:17:42][5.9]

Newsclip: [00:17:46] "Hours after arriving in Kabul, sitting at the president's desk.". [00:17:50][3.1]

Friba Rezayee: [00:17:51] All our rights and freedom were halted overnight. My heart was broken, my heart was bleeding, but my mind could not comprehend the fact that this was happening. We lost everything. We are in uncertainty. We don't know what's going to happen. Everybody went into hiding. Our dojo was shut down, they're still shut down. Everybody is terrified, because everybody's waiting for that knock from the Taliban at the door to come and capture them and take them to their Sharia law. Taliban were patrolling the neighborhood where our dojo's are. They actually sat down inside our dojos, and they were waiting for the girls to come for the training so they can upper hand the girls directly there. But the girls were very intelligent. They did not go to the gym to practice, because they knew the Taliban are patrolling the neighborhood. The Taliban also started taking the survey in the neighborhood, writing down the names of those people who worked for the government who worked for the international organization. They included the female athletes in that list. One of our prominent judo athletes sent me a message saying that the Taliban raided her house, and the Taliban wanted to capture her and bring her to justice. And they ordered her to come and appear at the local mosque in front of the members of the community and in front of the local leader of the Taliban. They scheduled her to be lashed or flogged 100 times in front of people for playing sport. We were able to get her to safety immediately with our contacts and our resources, but she was in hiding and on the run from the Taliban for three weeks. [00:19:34][103.0]

Newsclip: [00:19:37] "The airport, now overrun. Desperate, chaotic scenes as massive crowds surged onto the tarmac, desperate to get out of the country." [00:19:44][7.7]

Friba Rezayee: [00:19:52] We tried to get her one of those airplanes, either through Canadian or a U.S. military airplanes. We added her name on the list. She was on the official list for the flights. She waited five nights in the car with her dad to get a chance to get on the plane at the airport. And there were suicide bombers. Many people were killed. There was totally chaos - I'm sure you have seen the pictures from the Kabul airport. So she was there. She did not get a chance to get on the plane, and the flight stopped. There were no flights. There were no airplanes. While this was happening, my Afghan coach - the coach that I asked to train me boxing because I wanted to challenge Laila Ali - he was on Taliban's list, as well. Taliban was particularly looking for him. He would be judged for training girls and allowing the two gender to practice at the same time. And because he has been supporting and training Afghan women and Afghan girls for such a long time, for the last two decades, we had to find a safety and shelter for him, as well. And then with - with our contacts, with our collaboration with IJF, International Judo Federation, we managed to secure visas for them to Uzbekistan. They are now both in Uzbekistan, in Tashkent, but the rest of the judo team remaining in Afghanistan, they are in such a vulnerable situation, and they are terrified for their lives. I am terrified for their lives. [00:21:25][93.8]

Friba Rezayee: [00:21:32] Everybody is forced to stay at home, there are no sport, there's no education. Taliban recently released a decree that girls are not allowed to go to school above sixth grade. They closed all the secondary schools and education for girls and women, and they also closed all the universities. Taliban simply banned women from participating in any sort of sport. And right now, our dojos are locked, like literally locked. They put a lock on the door. One of our athletes was in Afghanistan, she says that "This is my life now. All I do is I'm in my living room around our bedroom. All I do is eat, sleep, and breathe." And she says, "This is not the meaning of life. This is not the purpose that I was, I was born." I am trying and I'm working tirelessly to get our judo team into safety as soon as we can. It's extremely difficult, it's extremely complicated, but we are working. I'm not giving up my hope, and we are still planning to send our team and hopefully two girls to the 2024 Olympic Games. [00:22:46][73.9]

Friba Rezayee: [00:22:50] It is devastating, because Afghan women had so many achievements and so many goals in the last two decades. Women run for office, women run businesses, women were in the parliament, women - there were female athletes, teachers, doctors, you name it, Afghan women did. And we hold those achievements and gains very dear to us, very precious to us. A 18 years-old in our program in Afghanistan right now said to me, "Friba, I want to become the first female president of Afghanistan." And I ask her how? And she says, "If you study history, and if you look out throughout the history, none of these dictators, none of these regimes lasted forever. Taliban are not going to last forever, either. I am 18 years old. I want to go pursue my higher education in a western country and get my education, get my masters and get my Ph.D. By the time I receive and I get my higher education, get my Ph.D., Taliban will be gone from Afghanistan, and I'll return to Afghanistan, and I will become a leader. And I will lead my country." I'm very, very proud of her, and I also believe in her. She is still in Afghanistan. We are trying to find her a scholarship at one of the colleges or even high school, because her high school is closed now, her studies are interrupted. It is very difficult, but we are trying to find her a scholarship. I believe in the power of people of Afghanistan, and I believe in the power of women and girls of Afghanistan, as much as Afghanistan has been devastated and has seen crises before. We are very, very strong, especially Afghan women are very strong. [00:24:46][115.2]

Newsclip: [00:24:52] "Rifle butts and tear gas used against women asking only to work, go to school, and to be included in Afghanistan's new government. The protests began Thursday ... " [00:25:01][9.7]

Friba Rezayee: [00:25:06] I had never seen Afghan woman so strong and so united. That is what is driving me. That is my hope. As much as I'm devastated, I cannot afford to lose hope, and I'm not giving up on my hope, because hope is the only thing that keeps us going. Regardless our geographical location, our team in Afghanistan and Afghan women in diaspora, we have centered our voices, we are helping each other, we are lifting each other up. There is a great unity among us now. We all have the same message. We all have same goals, and we are all working together to achieve the same goal, which is peace and human rights, women's rights in Afghanistan. I believe that the principles of human rights, democracy, and women's rights are stronger than men with the gun. [00:26:06][59.8]

Friba Rezayee: [00:26:13] That's it for this episode of The Long Game. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. The Long Game is a co-production of Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. This episode was produced by Cherie Turner and Karen Given, with help from Dan Ephron, Rob Sachs, Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah, and Jigar Mehta. Make sure to follow us on Apple or your favorite podcast app, and please leave us a review. To learn more, subscribe to Foreign Policy, a global magazine of news and ideas. Or visit Doha Debates, A production of Qatar Foundation. This season on The Long Game: [00:26:52][39.1]

Guest 1: [00:26:53] This is how we showed the world a different narrative, a different story about the Palestinian people, about the struggle we live. In football, we believe that we are free." [00:27:02][8.3]

Guest 2: [00:27:02] Now imagine that you're in the middle of these people who are your designated enemies, your so-called enemies. It shows the kind of feelings that sport and cricket can harness. [00:27:11][9.1]

Guest 3: [00:27:12] I think the turning point was when we saw the video of the Liverpool supporters and their singing, "If he scores another few, then I'll be Muslim too. And sitting in the mosque, that's where I want to be." [00:27:20][8.3]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:27:20] And we'll take a look at the protests that often accompany mega-sized sporting events, including the 2022 Qatar World Cup, and ask the question: Can mega event activism actually lead to lasting change? That's this season on The Long Game. [00:27:20][0.0]

Growing up in Afghanistan, Friba Rezayee didn’t always do as she was told. She didn’t enjoy the games the girls were supposed to play, so she played outside with the boys, even though it wasn’t allowed. As a teenager, Rezayee was introduced to the sport of judo, and she immediately knew that this would be how she would fight for her freedom. Rezayee qualified for the Olympics in 2004 and became one of the first two women, along with Robina Muqimyar, to compete for Afghanistan at the Olympic Games. More recently, she founded Women Leaders of Tomorrow, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing sports and education to women and girls in Afghanistan. Her mission is to help create her country’s future leaders. But now that the Taliban are back in power, what’s to become of Rezayee’s dream?
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Episode 2

Cricketers Lead the Way for India and Pakistan

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Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:00] The rivalry between the cricket teams of India and Pakistan is a little like if a billion people tuned in to a Red Sox / Yankees game, but add in nationalistic fervor on both sides and things can get a little tense. Fans can get aggressive. [00:00:12][12.9]

Newsclip: [00:00:13] It's absolutely mad here at the Dubai International Stadium. This is the first time that Pakistan has beaten India in any World Cup, leave alone the T20 World Cup format. [00:00:23][9.6]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:23] But just a few weeks ago, on October 24th, when the Pakistani men's cricket team ended a 29-year losing streak by beating India in a World Cup match. A small moment after the match captured the hearts of viewers on both sides of the border. [00:00:37][14.3]

Newsclip: [00:00:38] You can see the teams shaking hands ... [00:00:40][2.1]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:41] When Indian captain Virat Kohli walked over to congratulate Pakistani opening batsman Mohammad Rizwan, he ruffled Rizwan's hair. Rizwan grinned up in pure joy as Kohli smiled back. The photo went viral. [00:00:55][14.3]

Unidentified Speaker: [00:00:57] Seeing pictures of camaraderie between Indian and Pakistani players - I think it definitely was a moment that wasn't lost on me. [00:01:02][5.9]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:01:06] From Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. This is The Long Game, a podcast about the power of sports to change the world. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. Reporter Maria Karimjee has our story. [00:01:18][12.5]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:01:21] There's a story I've heard a few times, almost like a legend in Karachi, where I live and spent my childhood. It comes up whenever anyone talks about the India-Pakistan cricket rivalry. It's about a woman, Sana Kazmi, who crossed the India-Pakistan border to watch the two countries square off in the 2011 Cricket World Cup semifinals. This cricket rivalry is one of the biggest in the world. It's hard to describe to people who don't watch cricket and who don't live in the subcontinent. But when there's a match between the two countries, it sometimes feels like everything else has come to a stop. [00:01:56][34.6]

Sana Kazmi: [00:01:58] You know, everyone's thinking about it. It's it's like when you're in a crowd, when you go to a concert - you're part of something bigger than yourself. So this is like that on steroids. And sometimes I think it must be really annoying for people who are not interested in cricket, because you can't escape it. It's everywhere. [00:02:17][19.5]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:02:17] That's Sana. Like me, she grew up watching cricket in Pakistan. In 2011, the Cricket World Cup was hosted by India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. [00:02:29][12.1]

Newsclip: [00:02:30] That could be it. That will be it. [00:02:32][2.0]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:02:34] In the first quarterfinal match, Pakistan beat the West Indies by 10 wickets, setting up a semifinal matchup with India. [00:02:39][5.6]

Newsclip: [00:02:40] One of the great wins in the history of World Cup cricket. [00:02:42][2.9]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:02:44] Pakistani fans who watched that match saw the World Cup in their immediate future. [00:02:48][4.1]

Sana Kazmi: [00:02:49] As soon as we won that match, I, I remember calling up a friend and I was like, "Hey, should we go to India?" And she was like, "Should we?" You know, and it was like half a question and half like, you know, like, "Are you crazy?" [00:03:01][11.9]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:03:03] But getting to Majali, India, where the match will be played, was anything other than straightforward. [00:03:08][4.5]

Sana Kazmi: [00:03:09] We started, you know, looking for information, like how does it work? Where do we get the tickets? Where's the the visa information? And there was nothing. There was nothing out there. Thanks to Twitter, I knew a bunch of sports journalists, so I asked them. Nobody knew anything. [00:03:24][15.8]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:03:25] Sana needed two things: a visa to get into India and a ticket to go to the match. She created a hashtag "#GetTheGirlsToMohali," asking Twitter for help. [00:03:35][10.1]

Sana Kazmi: [00:03:36] A bunch of like, you know, celebrity type Twitter celebrities kind of with large followings saw it or liked it or retweeted it. [00:03:45][8.9]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:03:45] To get the Indian visa as Pakistani citizens, they needed to submit a utility bill of someone in India who would vouch for them. [00:03:52][7.1]

Sana Kazmi: [00:03:53] So there was an Indian journalist from BBC who just like, scanned and gave us her documents. Like, "You can use them." Like she didn't know us from Adam, she had just followed our campaign. [00:04:02][9.0]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:04:03] Sana and her friends cobbled together three tickets through the kindness of internet strangers then flew to Islamabad to apply for their visas. The night before the match, they heard back from the Indian High Commission. They'd been approved. They boarded a bus to Wagga, the one point between India and Pakistan that you can cross the border via land. The girls were going to Majali. [00:04:24][21.7]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:04:28] When Pakistan and India first started playing cricket against each other in 1952, just five years after partition, it was much easier to cross the border and watch matches. But relations between the two countries soon soured over Kashmir. And by 1965, they'd gone to war. When Pakistan and India next faced off on the cricket pitch 17 years later, the wartime tensions have seeped into the sport. When Pakistan beat India in 1978, the Pakistani captain declared it a victory for all Muslims against Hindus. [00:05:02][34.0]

Rahul Bhattacharya: [00:05:03] The idea of another cricket team representing your enemy, it is a strong one, and it is a pervasive one. I don't think it's a healthy one. [00:05:12][8.9]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:05:12] That's Rahul Bhattacharya. He's an Indian cricket journalist. When relations between the two countries normalized, cricket thrived. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan and India played each other at neutral venues. In early 1999, during a stable time, India invited the Pakistani cricket team to tour the country. In 2004, Pakistan reciprocated. The Indian team flew into Lahore. [00:05:37][24.9]

Rahul Bhattacharya: [00:05:38] And the sort of, the welcome that the Indian - not just the players, but all those who travel from India - got from the Pakistanis on that tour was just beyond overwhelming. Nobody thought it would be quite like this, you know? [00:05:52][13.9]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:05:52] Rahul came to Pakistan with the Indian team for this 2004 tour. [00:05:56][3.6]

Rahul Bhattacharya: [00:05:57] I remember the cab driver had told me his - the air conditioner was not working. Later in the conversation as he found out from India, he sort of switched up immediately. So it was working all the while, but I was given the special treatment only because I was from India. [00:06:14][17.2]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:06:15] Rahul was so bowled over by the hospitality that he and other Indians were shown during their time in Pakistan that he wrote a book called Pundits from Pakistan about how the tour went well beyond cricket. It helped normalize relations between the countries and created a sense of goodwill between fans of the sport on both sides of the border. The 2004 tour came during a moment of real friendship and peace between the two countries. The first match in Pakistan was in Karachi at the National Stadium. Rahul was there, and he watched Inzamam-ul-Haq, one of Pakistan's greatest batsmen, hit a century. That means he scored 100 runs. But still he fell short of the target. India won the match, but the Pakistani fans broke out in extended applause. [00:07:03][48.0]

Rahul Bhattacharya: [00:07:05] I remember the atmosphere. You know, there was all this banging of empty mineral water bottles to get the sort of rhythm going, and that continued all the way to the end. And then there was a moment of silence when the final catch was taken. And after that, this sort of sea of applause, very, very thrilling and moving moment. And you can imagine being in the middle of a stadium in front of such a large audience and being applauded is, in itself, such a rousing thing. [00:07:31][26.1]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:07:31] The moment was transformative. [00:07:32][0.9]

Rahul Bhattacharya: [00:07:34] Imagine that you're in the middle of these people who are your designated enemies, your so-called enemies, and them giving you this kind of welcome appreciation. It shows the - the kind of feelings that sport and cricket can harness. And that statement, it's a statement of sort of - it's beautiful and enlightened and civilized statement. And it's all it's kind of thrilling in its magnanimity. [00:07:57][23.2]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:08:01] For Rahul, the tour presented a kind of possibility for cricket and for Pakistan and India. If in relatively stable times, the teams could pop over and play matches like this, perhaps that would go a long way towards establishing rapport between the two countries. [00:08:17][15.2]

Rahul Bhattacharya: [00:08:18] Just the idea that India and Pakistan could tour each other, and there are people who could go over to one another's countries and watch these matches and people could engage in that manner and this being normal - a part of something that can happen every couple of years, as it happens with other teams - it seems to be, now in retrospect, a wonderfully mature thing. A state of affairs if you know where people are on both sides of the border are behaving like adults. [00:08:45][27.5]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:08:46] But Rahul says those who say that cricket is a tool of diplomacy have got it a bit backwards. [00:08:51][4.6]

Rahul Bhattacharya: [00:08:52] Cricket was always part of a greater engagement between the countries. India and Pakistan will not just be able to - It's not for the Indian Cricket Board to call the Pakistan Cricket Board and say, "OK, let's play a few matches next week," or next month or whatever it is. When you have channels of communications open between the government, when you're sort of actively seeking to promote a trade and cultural exchange between the two countries, a cricket tour comes almost like a showpiece event in this. It's when the governments are in the mood to speak to one another, when it will even be open to the idea of considering a cricket tour. [00:09:28][35.5]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:09:29] Just four years after Rahul visited Pakistan, tensions with India hit a boiling point once again. In November of 2008, a terrorist organization from Pakistan carried out a coordinated series of attacks in Mumbai over the course of four days. Almost 200 people died. [00:09:47][18.2]

Newsclip: [00:09:49] A nation of many faiths lights candles and offers prayers for the dead in Mumbai. [00:09:55][5.2]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:09:58] Relations between India and Pakistan turned frosty yet again. India implied that Pakistan's intelligence services had aided and abetted the attack. Pakistan denied this. [00:10:08][10.3]

Newsclip: [00:10:09] Gunmen on the streets of Lahore. A brazen and deadly attack on a high profile target. [00:10:13][4.3]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:10:14] Less than a year later, the Sri Lankan team came to Pakistan for a tour. While in Lahore on their way to the stadium, the Sri Lankan team was attacked. International cricket in Pakistan came to a grinding stop. As relations with India continued to sour, matches between the two countries were few and far between, disappointing scores of fans across the world. So when Pakistan was matched up against India in the semifinal of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, Sana, that lifelong Pakistani cricket fan, knew the match would be a big deal. At Wahgah, she and her friends moved through the line of other Pakistanis trying to get to India. It seemed everyone else was there for cricket, so they crossed over without much fanfare. [00:11:05][50.5]

Sana Kazmi: [00:11:06] Overall, people - and this is, I think, more so on the Indian side - were just amused to see us, because we were all in like our white and green and flags and hats and, you know, like just being kind of like obnoxious fans. And they were just all laughing. [00:11:19][13.7]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:11:22] But they still have to get to the stadium five hours away. And they also had to pick up their tickets. [00:11:27][4.4]

Sana Kazmi: [00:11:28] We see these two Pakistani uncles in like Pakistan team jerseys emerge from that same gate. And they have their sunglasses on, and you know, they were walking with a lot of confidence and no anxiety. And there was a guy who was carrying their suitcases behind them. So they seemed like they were all set. And I told my friends, "Guys, why don't we just go with them, like they're going to the same place?" [00:11:52][24.4]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:11:53] Sana and her friends hitched a ride with those men, worrying about how to tell them they still needed to pick up their tickets. But they quickly found out the men they were with had extra. [00:12:01][8.7]

Sana Kazmi: [00:12:02] The way we found out was they were calling their friends in Chandigarh - they had friends there - and trying to convince them to come to the match. [00:12:10][8.1]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:12:11] But Sana and her friends had a better idea. [00:12:12][1.5]

Sana Kazmi: [00:12:13] It was like a five hour drive. I think like three and a half to four hours of that was just us trying to convince them to, you know, give us their tickets. [00:12:25][12.1]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:12:30] You're listening to The Long Game, from Foreign policy and Doha Debates. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. And now we return to our story of India, Pakistan, and cricket diplomacy. [00:12:46][15.8]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:12:47] Sana and her friends got the tickets and arrived at the stadium a little after the match started. Then, they watched as Pakistan slowly lost to India. There's a reason that Sana's story was mentioned to me so many times. For starters, there's a real magic in it. Three young Pakistani women traveling together to India, which, here, is often seen as enemy territory. There's also the fact there's really no easy, quick way to travel between the two countries, especially when tensions between them are so high. But the real magic, to me, anyway, was what happened after the match. Pakistan lost, and it became so apparent that Pakistan was not going to win that the teeny tiny section of Pakistani fans at the stadium started leaving early. Sana and her friends didn't leave early. And once India had won, the stadium unsurprisingly broke out in celebration. Sana realized that she was in hostile territory. [00:13:47][59.8]

Sana Kazmi: [00:13:48] It was really crowded and so many Indians, so many Indian fans came up to us for just a chat and they were like, you know, "Thank you so much for coming to our country," and, you know, "You guys played really well." And you know, some of them, like, want to take pictures with us. And I remember one girl came and said, "You guys deserved to win. You did better." Like, no didn't. [Laughs] I just went for the cricket, like I said. But the response, not just in terms of while I was there, but in the interactions that I had with Indians both before and after going there, that really made me want to just engage more. [00:14:36][47.4]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:14:37] Sana returned to India the following year again to watch a cricket match between Pakistan and India - the last time the two countries would play each other outside of a tournament. [00:14:46][9.5]

Sana Kazmi: [00:14:47] But this time I stayed for 10 days, you know, because I wanted to see it beyond the cricket, and it was so much fun. I, you know, I love the chaat there and all the vegetarian food and the shopping, and just - just so many things. [00:15:02][14.9]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:15:06] In the decades since Sana's last trip to India, there have been fewer and fewer matches between India and Pakistan. And for the youngest generation of Pakistani and Indian cricket fans, the rivalry between India and Pakistan doesn't feel the same as it once did. [00:15:21][14.9]

Uzair Sattar: [00:15:22] As a follower and fan of Pakistan cricket, much of the focus that I've had hasn't been on India-Pakistan, just because of the really sordid state of affairs that's left almost no cricket between us. [00:15:33][11.5]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:15:34] That's Uzair Sattar, a 22 year old cricket fan. In his lifetime, he only remembers watching about eight India-Pakistan matches. Like me, Uzair is a Pakistani who got his love of the game from his father. [00:15:46][12.6]

Uzair Sattar: [00:15:47] My dad's why I started watching cricket. He's been a fan all his life, and his favorite story about India-Pakistan that he's told me was in the 80s. Imran Khan is bowling to Sunil Gavaskar. He describes like a specific ball that Imran Khan bowled, or like pitched, almost like on the wide line and then sort of just cut back in to bowl and Gavaskar didn't even offer a shot. He has like these very specific moments that he remembers with great, great fondness about India and Pakistan that I think have remained with him even today. [00:16:28][41.4]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:16:29] Hearing these stories, Uzair started feeling that perhaps he'd gotten the shorter end of the stick. [00:16:34][4.7]

Uzair Sattar: [00:16:35] I would personally much rather have been a cricket fan in the 80s or in the 90s, when things are more focused on the sport as opposed to sort of everything else that goes around it. [00:16:46][11.3]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:16:48] When I first spoke to Uzair in early October, there was no reason to believe this narrative would change. The T20 World Cup was fast approaching. [00:16:56][7.6]

Newsclip: [00:16:57] In a massive, global embarrassment for Pakistan ... [00:17:00][3.5]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:17:00] A month before the tournament, New Zealand's team flew to Pakistan after 18 years to play a cricket tour. But on the day of the first match, New Zealand cited a specific, credible security threat and left the country. [00:17:13][12.8]

Newsclip: [00:17:14] The decision to pull out of the first one day in Rawalpindi came just minutes before the toss. [00:17:18][4.2]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:17:19] England, which was due to play two matches against Pakistan in mid-October, followed suit, canceling their tour. This meant the Pakistan team was not able to practice in the way they'd hoped and served a massive blow for international cricket returning to the country. On the 24th of October, Pakistan and India played each other in the T20 World Cup. [00:17:41][22.1]

Newsclip: [00:17:41] The tournament may have started today, but all eyes are fixated on tomorrow's big game. The most anticipated clash in the calendar year ... [00:17:49][8.3]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:17:50] In Karachi, where I live, it felt like everyone was planning their weekend around cricket. Chai babas all over the city projected the match onto the walls of their buildings. Karachi government officials put up giant screens in the city. The feeling of excitement and anticipation was everywhere. From the very first ball, Pakistani fans felt as though they were watching something incredible. [00:18:12][21.9]

Uzair Sattar: [00:18:13] And then, at the start of the third over, Shaheen Shah Afridi was probably one of the best balls of his career. Bowling fast and hits the middle of the wicket on middle stump, straightens up like an arrow and just faintly clips the top before the bell trickles down in a very sort of cinematic way. And, you know, Pakistan is all celebrating. And so those first three overs, I think, put us on top. [00:18:39][26.4]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:18:44] Pakistan won, the first time they beat India in a World Cup game, surprising everyone, especially diehard Pakistani fans who knew their team was the underdog. And it was right after that match that the viral photo was taken of Kohli ruffling Rizwan's hair. Pakistan went on to win every game of the group stage. They headed into the semifinals undefeated. Then, after a valiant attempt to beat Australia, fell short of the mark. But for every fan I spoke to, including Uzair, the loss didn't feel as devastating. [00:19:19][35.8]

Uzair Sattar: [00:19:21] We were two good days away from being the champions and winning and winning the trophy. That didn't happen, so it's obviously disappointing, but it doesn't feel as heartbreaking as previous tournament exits might have been. [00:19:35][14.0]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:19:35] Part of that was because Pakistan's team is comparatively young and is brimming with talent. But part of that was also because, in addition to winning their matches, Pakistani cricket players were also winning the hearts of everyone around them. After soundly beating Namibia, for example, the Pakistan cricket team visited the Namibian dressing room to congratulate the players. [00:19:55][19.9]

Uzair Sattar: [00:19:57] It was a step taken completely in line with what sports should do to sort of bring people together. [00:20:03][5.8]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:20:05] After their win against Scotland, Scotland's Twitter account posted a video of Pakistan and Scotland sharing a birthday cake for one of the Pakistani players. [00:20:12][7.0]

Uzair Sattar: [00:20:13] These 11 cricket players and the coaching staff and the broader team have done more for like the soft power of Pakistan than any initiative that I've seen in recent years. And it's so sort of second nature, and it's so natural, because we're doing it through a sport that we love and play and it's a part of who we are as a people now. And so the potential that cricket has to be, you know, a conduit to sort of change hearts and minds about, quote unquote Pakistan's image, I think exists. [00:20:41][28.3]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:20:43] During the World Cup, international teams like Australia, who haven't been to Pakistan in decades, announced upcoming tours. New Zealand, too, expressed interest in returning to Pakistan, and the International Cricket Council announced that Pakistan would host the 2025 Champions Trophy. Fans believe that it wasn't just the way the team played that sealed these deals. [00:21:03][20.1]

Uzair Sattar: [00:21:03] I'd say Pakistan cricket represents the soul of the country in a really good way at the moment, because ultimately players are a product of their society. And so right now, I think what we're seeing with this Pakistan cricket team is probably the best version of Pakistan that I've seen in a while. The way the spirit of cricket really permeated throughout the tournament as a whole speaks to the fact that cricket isn't just a game, it's sometimes much more than the sum of its parts. [00:21:34][30.4]

Mariya Karimjee: [00:21:39] But for me, a Pakistani fan in Karachi watching this tournament and all that was at stake, what struck me was that it was still play. It was still fun. And maybe that is the secret for cricketers acting as ambassadors for their country. [00:21:53][14.0]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:21:59] That's it for this episode of The Long Game. I'm your host Ibtihaj Muhammad. The Long Game is a co-production of Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. This episode was produced by Mariya Karimjee and Karen Given, with help from Dan Ephron, Rob Sachs, Japhet Weekes, Amjad Atallah, and Jigar Mehta. Make sure to follow us on Apple or your favorite podcast app, and please leave us a review. To learn more, subscribe to Foreign Policy, a global magazine of news and ideas, or visit Doha Debates, a production of Qatar Foundation. Next week on the podcast, last spring before their World Cup qualifying matches, athletes from Norway, Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark staged protests against Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup. At issue was their treatment of migrant workers. [00:22:53][53.9]

Guest: [00:22:54] It's a life of perpetual toil, really in pretty harsh conditions for very little pay. [00:23:00][5.9]

Guest: [00:23:01] We've seen that the World Cup has added a level of scrutiny, has really shone the spotlight on Qatar. That scrutiny has accelerated the changes that were anticipated - already anticipated as part of the reforms. [00:23:13][12.1]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:23:14] That's next time on The Long Game. [00:23:14][0.0]

https://open.acast.com/public/streams/618446be191fd30013ed07be/episodes/619bf3a607b024001b7d1654.mp3 The rivalry between the cricket teams of India and Pakistan is a little like if a billion people tuned into a Red Sox-Yankees game. Add in nationalistic fervor on both sides, and things can get tense. When Pakistan beat India in 1978, the Pakistani captain declared it a victory for all Muslims against Hindus. But until recently, Pakistan had never beaten India in a World Cup match. That changed when the Pakistani team made an unexpected run all the way to the 2021 T20 World Cup semifinal. And as Pakistani fans watched social media videos of their team visiting the Namibian dressing room and sharing a birthday cake with members of the Scottish team, some started asking, “Is this the future of cricket diplomacy?”
Qatar-Migrant-Workers-The-Long-Game-podcast-foreign-policy-square-site

Episode 3

Sports Activism and the 2022 World Cup

+ReadClose transcript

Newsclip: [00:00:02] Please rise for the national anthem of Norway. [00:00:04][1.2]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:10] Last March, ahead of their World Cup qualifying match, the Norwegian men's national soccer team removed their warm up jackets to reveal white shirts with black letters that read "Human rights, on and off the pitch." Players from Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark would later stage similar protests against Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup. At issue was the treatment of migrant workers. [00:00:36][26.1]

Nick McGeehan: [00:00:38] It's a life of perpetual toil, really, in pretty harsh conditions for very little pay. [00:00:44][5.9]

Max Tuñón: [00:00:44] We've seen that the World Cup has added a level of scrutiny, has really shown the spotlight on Qatar, and that scrutiny has accelerated a lot of the changes that were anticipated already anticipated as part of the reforms. [00:00:57][12.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:59] From Foreign Policy and Doha Debates, this is The Long Game, a podcast about the power of sports to change the world. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. There's an upside to hosting a mega-sized sporting event. Government's plan new roads and train stations and airports. And when you build it, people come - different people, new people who may not have visited before. Often, these mega-sized sporting events bring with them a spotlight. [00:01:28][28.9]

Newsclip: [00:01:29] Next month, more than three and a half million soccer fans are expected to head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the World Cup. But there are some serious questions about whether Rio is ready to play host. [00:01:39][9.6]

Newsclip: [00:01:40] We actually think nothing of the World Cup, because we are living in poverty. [00:01:43][2.9]

Newsclip: [00:01:44] During the World Cup final this July in Moscow, Verzilov ran onto the field in a police uniform protesting against police brutality in Russia. [00:01:52][7.4]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:01:53] But how effective is this mega event activism? And what happens when the circus leaves town and the spotlight goes dark? Reporter Ken Shulman looks at three case studies: South Africa, Brazil and, of course, Qatar. Here's Ken. [00:02:09][16.6]

Ken Shulman: [00:02:14] In early 2011, I traveled to Qatar. Doha, the stunning capital city, was humming, a ring of designer skyscrapers framing a bustling network of construction sites below. This Gulf emirate, a teardrop shaped country about the size of Connecticut, had just been awarded the 2022 World Cup. And Qataris were excited. They were the first Arab nation to host the competition. As part of their World Cup bid, Qatar had promised to build seven brand new stadiums. Now that required labor, and in a country with just over 300,000 citizens, that meant migrant labor. Back then you'd find those laborers on the Corniche, Doha's scenic waterfront promenade. Indians, Pakistanis, migrants from the Philippines, homesick workers who lived in labor camps and who on their rare days off came down to fish or smoke or play guitar. Now, migrant labor was nothing new to Qatar or to the Gulf. Foreign workers built Doha's spectacular skyline. They built capitals and factories and highways in Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. And in general, they were treated badly. [00:03:28][74.7]

Nick McGeehan: [00:03:30] We are often talking about abuses that equate to or come close to slavery. Now that's not to say these abuses don't happen elsewhere, but I think that - they are particularly severe in the Gulf. [00:03:40][10.6]

Ken Shulman: [00:03:41] That's Nick McGeehan. He's co-director of Fair Square Research and Projects. It's a London based NGO. Nick has spent lots of time in Qatar and the Gulf. He's an expert on migrant worker issues around the world. Migrants, he says, struggle wherever they land. But the situation in the Gulf is unique. [00:04:00][19.0]

Nick McGeehan: [00:04:01] Migrants are typically a small portion of the population in most countries. In the Gulf, it's about 80 to 90 percent. So the overwhelming majority of the population is in this situation. [00:04:10][9.2]

Ken Shulman: [00:04:11] That situation is the result of a system called Kafala. It's the system most Gulf countries used to regulate migrant labor. Under Kafala, a migrant worker needs an in-country sponsor, and that in-country sponsor pretty much controls the migrant's life. The migrant worker can't change jobs or leave the country without the sponsor's permission. It's essentially an open invitation to abuse. Thanks to the World Cup, Qatar has been in the crosshairs of the international human rights community, and that scrutiny has helped drive reform. Three and a half years ago, in 2017, Qatar invited the International Labor Organization to Doha to help overhaul the Kafala system. Today, migrants in Qatar no longer need permission to change jobs or leave the country. Max Tuñón heads the ILO Project Office in Doha. [00:05:04][53.3]

Max Tuñón: [00:05:05] Dismantling these two key elements is really at the cornerstone of the the labor reform agenda here in Qatar. The greater labor mobility that has been introduced since the Kafala reforms have led now to more than 220,000 workers changing employers in a year. That's over 10 percent of the workforce. [00:05:21][16.4]

Ken Shulman: [00:05:23] And Qatar, with help from partners like the ILO, has taken further steps to make labor contracts more transparent to institute a minimum and livable wage. It's a good start, says Tuñón, but the work is far from over. [00:05:37][14.4]

Max Tuñón: [00:05:38] So there are still issues to address, but when we think about the trajectory over time, how far things have come in the past three and a half four years, it's certainly a positive story. [00:05:48][9.3]

Ken Shulman: [00:05:48] So it looks like Qatar, lit up at least in part by the World Cup spotlight, has taken some bold steps. But how far will those reforms go? And what happens when the circus leaves town, taking the spotlight with it? A look at World Cups past might shed some light here, starting with South Africa, which hosted the tournament in 2010. [00:06:10][22.0]

Max Tuñón: [00:06:12] Well, I'm a third generation descendant of indentured labor who arrived here in South Africa since 1860. [00:06:20][8.0]

Ken Shulman: [00:06:21] Brij Maharaj is a geographer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. That's in Durban, a major South African port and a host city for the 2010 World Cup. His grandfather came to South Africa from India as an indentured worker. Indenture was just a step above slavery, a small step. Impoverished or indebted men signed binding contracts and boarded ships for far flung European colonies. Over 200,000 Indians came to the Durban area to work on sugar plantations. After a term of 5 or 10 years, they were free. [00:06:57][35.7]

Brij Maharaj: [00:06:57] And once they completed their indentured period, they began to engage in what is popularly known as market gardening. So around 1900, the vegetable and fruit needs of the Durban area was being provided by indentured laborers and the descendants. [00:07:14][17.0]

Ken Shulman: [00:07:17] These former servants sold their carrots and beetroot at a squatter's market near Durban's Warwick Junction. It was called the early morning market. By the 1950s, there were hundreds of stalls there. Indian and African traders sold in bulk and fed a broader network of satellite markets where locals bought their fruits and vegetables, spices, flowers, live poultry, and even traditional medicines. Maharaj and his brother worked at the early morning market when they were in high school in the 70s on weekends and holidays from before dawn to after dark. They lugged crates, swept floors, bargained with customers, and kept track of cash. It was a melting pot of cultures and a very lively scene. [00:08:00][43.3]

Brij Maharaj: [00:08:01] It's a hive of activity and it's a very busy place, and the people who came there were poor people because, you know, if you bought from a greengrocer, et cetera, you're going to be paying more. [00:08:13][11.7]

Newsclip: [00:08:14] The 2010 FIFA World Cup will be organized in South Africa. [00:08:20][6.2]

Ken Shulman: [00:08:24] Many South Africans, most South Africans, jumped for joy in 2004, when FIFA announced that their country would host the World Cup. It meant South Africa was back in the international fold after decades spent as a pariah during apartheid. And there was the promise of World Cup riches: airports, train hubs, sparkling urban centers, and most of all, jobs, badly-needed jobs in a country with one of the world's highest levels of inequality and unemployment. There were few South Africans, including Maharaj, who weren't completely sold on the idea, but most of them kept quiet. Support for Africa's first World Cup was an act of patriotism, a vote of confidence in the ruling ANC party, which had overthrown the racist apartheid regime. That patriotism didn't last long. [00:09:14][50.0]

Brij Maharaj: [00:09:15] I think after the hosting of FIFA 2010, the government privately conceded that they had - to put it crudely - were taken for a big ride by FIFA. We have more people living in shacks or informal settlements. There are more people without services like water, electricity, and sanitation. And, you know, unemployment rates are high. So regardless of the indicator that we use, 10 years after FIFA, the plight of the poor is they are worse off. [00:09:50][35.4]

Ken Shulman: [00:09:53] It might seem that neither the World Cup nor the very limited activism around it had any lasting effect on South Africa, at least for the country's poor. But that's not entirely true. There was at least one successful protest, and Mirage had a hand in it. Durban already had a soccer stadium when South Africa won its World Cup bid. But city leaders decided to build a new one. It's an architectural marvel with a signature arch and a cable car that, when it's not broken, offers stunning views of the city and the Indian Ocean. But the stadium is, if such a thing exists in Africa, a white elephant: dramatically underused and a constant cash drain for the city. Now, that's nothing new for World Cup or Olympic stadiums. Lots of planners overreach and overspend. And in Durban, that reach extended beyond the stadium, five kilometers south to be exact, to the early morning market. [00:10:51][58.2]

Brij Maharaj: [00:10:52] FIFA didn't ask for the market to be removed. The city authorities were using FIFA as an excuse to clean up the inner city, and cleaning up the inner city means pushing poor people out, because poor people are an embarrassment to the city authorities. So they came up with this idea of a mall. [00:11:13][21.0]

Ken Shulman: [00:11:15] A brand new shopping mall to complement the brand new stadium. It's not a bad idea, but a mall for whom? The locals could never afford to shop there. Meraj concedes that the early morning market and the surrounding area did need a facelift. Many spots were dirty, poorly lit, even dangerous, but it was a heritage site and a busy one. Nearly half a million commuters came through each day by bus, train, or on foot. Traders there did close to $140 million of business every year. Most of all, people who live nearby could afford to shop there. [00:11:51][35.4]

Brij Maharaj: [00:11:51] So it was a thriving economic hub for poor people. To build a mall in such an area was seen to be irrational, illogical. Most cities in the world actually promote these types of markets, because they have a popular appeal, they attract tourists, etc. [00:12:12][20.9]

Ken Shulman: [00:12:13] Maraj was no stranger to protest. As a student and as an academic, he spoke out frequently against apartheid. That activism got him noticed. His phone was tapped, and government security police tried to intimidate him on the street. But when the apartheid regime finally disappeared in 1994, South Africa's appetite for protests seemed to vanish as well. The battle was won. Everyone got behind the new government, and getting behind the government also meant supporting the World Cup. One morning, as Durban and the rest of the country were ramping up for soccer's greatest show on Earth, Maharaj found a letter printed in his morning newspaper, a letter about the early morning market. [00:12:55][42.1]

Brij Maharaj: [00:12:56] To be honest, it's the first time I became aware of the problem. So I went to a meeting. I didn't even carry a pen, you know, I listened to the challenges. And I said, "Yes, I can get involved." And there were other academics as well. [00:13:07][11.2]

Ken Shulman: [00:13:08] Meraj and his colleagues helped organize protest marches. They printed signs and banners, did radio and television interviews. It felt just like old times. A broad, diverse coalition. Traders, lawyers, porters, academics of all colors and stripes, all coming together to fight injustice. Except this time, the enemy wasn't apartheid. It was the ruling ANC party, the one that defeated apartheid. That felt a little weird. The fight got ugly. During one demonstration, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at traders. City officials even called the protesters racist, tried to paint them as a bunch of Indians trying to deprive Africans of the opportunities and benefits a mall would bring. [00:13:56][47.6]

Brij Maharaj: [00:13:57] Then they argued that Indian traders were exploiting Africans in the market and that some of the meetings where the city was trying to sell this project, you had chants of "Hamba ekhaya eMumbai." That's Zulu. And if you translate into English, it means, "Go home, go to Mumbai." And these chants were coming from what we called "rent-a-mob" groups, who were not linked in any way to the market, but were brought there by the ANC to almost intimidate the traders. [00:14:34][36.7]

Ken Shulman: [00:14:35] For the leaders of a country still recovering from decades of racial strife, it was a dangerous move. [00:14:40][5.0]

Brij Maharaj: [00:14:40] To make baseless accusation about race in South Africa is to throw a metaphorical hand grenade into a crowd. [00:14:46][5.6]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:14:51] You're listening to The Long Game, from Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. And now back to reporter Ken Shulman and our story about World Cup activism. [00:15:10][19.3]

Ken Shulman: [00:15:12] The traders and their lawyers turned to the courts, where they obtained a series of stays, or interdicts, against the city and the mall developers. It was a stall tactic. The traders didn't need to win their case. They just needed to run out the clock. [00:15:25][13.6]

Brij Maharaj: [00:15:26] The city was very much on the back foot, because they had very clear deadlines and has the interdicts prevented the traders from being displaced? The city, itself, realized that they may not be able to meet the deadline. [00:15:42][16.1]

Ken Shulman: [00:15:43] And run out the clock they did. Eventually, the city and the developers caved. The mall was scuttled, and he early morning market was saved. Many of the people who shop at Durban's early morning market and many of the people who work there live in what urban planners and politicians call informal settlements. These are city neighborhoods that spring up spontaneously, outside of government plans or regulations. About a third of the urban world lives in informal settlements in places that are often called shantytowns or slums. In Brazil, these informal settlements are called favelas. And the Brazilian city with the highest percentage of favelas is Rio de Janeiro. [00:16:27][44.1]

Theresa Williamson: [00:16:28] People need shelter. And so they squat. [00:16:30][2.2]

Ken Shulman: [00:16:31] That's Theresa Williamson. She's an urban planner. She lives in Rio, where she runs Catalytic Communities. It's an NGO that advocates for people who live in Rio's favelas. She says favelas may start out as slums ... [00:16:44][13.6]

Theresa Williamson: [00:16:45] ... but over time they actually consolidate and develop and residents improve their homes. And so most of the favelas in Rio are no longer characterized by the conditions that you would attribute to squatter communities, slums, or shantytowns. [00:16:58][12.9]

Ken Shulman: [00:17:01] For about four years, Brazil was the epicenter of world sport. In 2014, the country hosted the World Cup. Two years later, Rio staged the Summer Olympics. The one-two sporting punch create an opening for Rio's leaders to tackle many of the city's longstanding problems: congestion, pollution, poverty, and that meant sprucing up the favelas. In the beginning, everyone loved the idea. [00:17:27][25.7]

Theresa Williamson: [00:17:28] Because we had been in a stagnant economy for three decades in Rio, and there was money going to come in and the assumption was it was going to be helpful. The city government said, "We're going to upgrade all the favelas by 2020. We're going to plant 24 million trees to offset the carbon from the games. We're going to clean the Guanabara Bay and the pollution and the sewage," and all of those things were things that would have benefited the population. But then those aren't the things that transpired, and very quickly we were hearing cases of eviction. [00:17:57][28.9]

Ken Shulman: [00:17:59] Evictions. Instead of upgrading the favelas, Williamson saw that the government was trying to erase them, at least erase their character, homogenize them, turn them into something that might appeal to high-end tourists. She says she has nothing against high-end tourists, but she is critical of local governments who don't value the very assets that define their cities and their culture. [00:18:21][22.4]

Theresa Williamson: [00:18:22] Every single cultural manifestation you associate with Rio was either born in, developed in, or maintained in the city's favelas. Carnival, Samba, Passinho, Brazilian funk music nowadays, right, capoeira. Yet, these communities are chronically shunted to the side. Why? Because people who live there are low income. They don't have a lot of money to spend. [00:18:46][24.3]

Ken Shulman: [00:18:47] Now, let's be clear. Many of Rio's favelas needed cleaning up. There was substandard sanitation, crumbling streets, spotty electric and internet service, and there were gangs and drug dealers - not everywhere, but enough to make it a real problem. But there were also families, working people, students, whole communities caught completely off guard, [00:19:08][20.8]

Theresa Williamson: [00:19:09] And the government would show up with eviction notices and literally a bus to put your stuff in, and people didn't know they could fight back. [00:19:16][6.5]

Ken Shulman: [00:19:20] But they soon learned how. Residents started sharing stories and strategies, from one favela to another. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. And sometimes it was hard to tell, like in the favela called Vila Autódromo [00:19:33][13.4]

Theresa Williamson: [00:19:34] Vila Autódromo was next to the city's racetrack, it was actually named after the racetrack, because residents there moved there to build the racetrack. And when the Olympics were announced, they decided they were going to remove the racetrack and build the main Olympic site on that location. So this little favela of 700 homes was right next to what would become the main Olympic site. [00:19:56][21.8]

Ken Shulman: [00:19:57] There weren't any gangs or militias in Vila Autódromo. No drug traffic. Young people there tended to go to university. Most people move there by choice, and they didn't want to leave. Many of them stepped up to lead the resistance. A local schoolteacher, a local mother. [00:20:12][15.3]

Theresa Williamson: [00:20:12] And there was the president of the Residents Association, who - it was his third eviction. He had been evicted as a teenager from a favela in the south zone of Rio. He had been evicted as an adult from a part of City of God that was removed for road. And then he was evicted again Vila Autódromo. So he brought to the struggle the sense of not again, never again. [00:20:40][28.0]

Ken Shulman: [00:20:43] The battle against the eviction unfolded in the courts and on the streets. The international press played a critical role. [00:20:49][6.3]

Newsclip: [00:20:50] And preparations for the soccer World Cup in Brazil is meaning evictions for several Brazilian residents. [00:20:55][4.7]

Ken Shulman: [00:20:56] Evictions happen all the time in Rio, but the international press had rarely covered them. This time was different. [00:21:02][5.9]

Theresa Williamson: [00:21:02] If these evictions were not linked to the World Cup and Olympics, the international press wouldn't have been there. [00:21:07][4.8]

Ken Shulman: [00:21:08] On the ground, resistance grew increasingly creative and bold. Residents barricaded streets or formed human chains when police showed up. One local photographer shot a series of portraits of residents who'd received eviction orders. [00:21:21][13.1]

Theresa Williamson: [00:21:22] And he plastered them, pasted them huge on the sides of the homes so that if the tractors came, they would be demolishing right into the sides of these houses with these huge faces of the people who lived there. [00:21:33][11.6]

Ken Shulman: [00:21:35] The government didn't just use tractors and police pressure. There was also a soft sell, an effort, legitimate from their perspective, to purchase the homes in Vila Autódromo. They tried it with a local leader named Dona Penha, a quiet woman, a devout Catholic who stepped forward as a leader after a previous group of leaders had been evicted. [00:21:54][18.5]

Theresa Williamson: [00:21:55] So Dona Penha would say, "No todas tienen un precio," and that means, "Not everyone has a price." Her home, to her, was priceless. She had married her husband in their garage. She had raised her daughter. She had space for her mother and her child to everyone have space as they got older. She had trees. And, you know, she didn't see a price tag on there, so it didn't matter what the city offered. There is simply no price. That slogan really reflected not only Dona Pena but the community at large. It was plastered all over the walls with graffiti, and it came to symbolize Vila Autódromo, because it messed with a lot of people's worldviews. The idea that the government might be offering market rate there - one or two million reais - and she's not even having a conversation about it, because that's not what her home is to her. It's not a speculative good. It's her home. [00:22:51][56.0]

Ken Shulman: [00:22:52] If you visit Vila Autódromo today, you'll find 20 small white houses. These are the houses that the government built for the 20 families who resisted until the end and who were allowed to stay. Twenty families out of 700. The original houses were destroyed. And during your visit, you'll find the Evictions Museum, which Dona Penha helped create. [00:23:14][22.1]

Theresa Williamson: [00:23:15] They'll take you around to the church, which is the the original building that's still there. They'll walk you around where they have signs where things were before. Nothing was done with the site - this is really important. One little edge of it became an access road. A little park became parking, but the vast majority of the space was left as gravel and grass, so there was no need to evict people. [00:23:39][24.4]

Ken Shulman: [00:23:45] No todas tienen un precio. Not everyone has a price. It's hard to quantify the economic and social impact of events like the World Cup. It's even harder to chart the ethics. Opponents argue it's obscene for a country like Brazil to spend $3.6 billion on stadiums when so many people lack basic services, and it is a big sum. But the government spent 100 times that sum on health care and education over the same period. And yes, the evictions from Rio's favelas and from places like Durban's early morning market were definitely accelerated by the World Cup. But the World Cup didn't invent gentrification or inequality or graft. And some of the attention these events draw, however unwelcome by organizers, may even help to shift the social justice needle just a little closer to True North. As it appears to have done in Qatar, when Qatar in 2020 abolished the Kafala system and overhauled its labor laws. But how much influence did the World Cup actually have? Max Tuñón, the International Labor Organization project director, says labor reforms were already well underway in Qatar. [00:24:57][71.6]

Max Tuñón: [00:24:58] Certainly the World Cup was a major factor that accelerated the reforms, but it's not only about the World Cup. The changes that have been introduced in the past few years are also very much aligned with the national vision of the country, the national development strategy. [00:25:12][14.5]

Ken Shulman: [00:25:13] Tuñón says the labor reforms are just one element in a larger plan to diversify and modernize Qatar's economy. [00:25:19][6.2]

Max Tuñón: [00:25:20] That development strategy talks about the establishment of a more competitive economy, a more knowledge-based economy, a more diversified economy. And these labor reforms very much contribute to those goals as well. [00:25:30][10.4]

Ken Shulman: [00:25:33] For labor activist Nick McGeehan, Qatar's labor reforms had less to do with the World Cup than with Qatar looking for help navigating a regional quagmire. [00:25:41][7.6]

Max Tuñón: [00:25:42] I would say the more likely explanation for that is that Qatar was under a lot of pressure due to the aggression of its neighbors in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar needed allies and its Western allies. It needed to put up a good face in order to protect itself from the aggression of the Saudis and the Emiratis. And looking good on labor rights was one of the ways they've done that, [00:26:04][22.0]

Ken Shulman: [00:26:04] And Qatar is quite different from Brazil and South Africa. It can afford to spend tens of billions on a World Cup. Its citizens, that 15 percent of the population, enjoy free education, free health care, job guarantees, even free electricity. [00:26:18][13.0]

Max Tuñón: [00:26:19] Whether or not they are all fully supportive of having the World Cup, the concerns that they would raise, they would raise internally. They're not protesting on the streets about this. The ones who are grabbing headlines are the reports of Human Rights Watch, are the reports of Amnesty International, are reports of international trade unions. It has been that sort of professionalized activism, if you want to call it that, that has driven press coverage and driven critical press coverage and to an extent, driven a reform process. [00:26:45][26.3]

Ken Shulman: [00:26:47] There's yet another distinction between the cases, and it's in the nature of the problem. [00:26:50][3.5]

Max Tuñón: [00:26:51] That's one of the interesting things working on this is it's fixable. It's not one of these intractable problems that you're never going to solve. These countries have all the money in the world to fix this problem if they want to. So people are going to work on it. But what will disappear, I think, is the the attention of editors, the attention of journalists, the attention of the types of people who can take the spotlight and turn it on Qatar in a way that's really effective. We lose that. [00:27:16][24.8]

Ken Shulman: [00:27:18] If there's a conclusion to be drawn, it's that whatever outside pressure may be brought to bear, real change needs to be driven from within. [00:27:25][7.3]

Max Tuñón: [00:27:25] I think, and this doesn't just apply to Qatar, but I think the solution to this problem doesn't lie in the West, doesn't lie in Western NGOs, reports that appeal to Western audiences. It lies in two places, one in the states that send workers to the Gulf, ensuring that they are more assertive in calling for the rights of their nationals. And the second one, and perhaps the more interesting one, is Gulf nationals themselves who often get overlooked in this debate. They're often absent from this debate. But you spend time in Qatar or Kuwait, and you'll find lots of Gulf nationals who are engaged in this issue and want to improve the way that migrants are treated in their country. [00:28:05][40.2]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:28:13] That's it for this episode of The Long Game. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. The Long Game is a co-production of Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. This episode was produced by Ken Shulman and Karen Given, with help from Dan Ephron, Rob Sachs. Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah, and Jigar Mehta. Make sure to follow us on Apple or your favorite podcast app, and please leave us a review. To learn more, subscribe to Foreign Policy, a global magazine of news and ideas, or visit Doha Debates, a production of Qatar Foundation. Next week on the podcast, Batouly Camara is one of the first Muslim women to play professional basketball in hijab. [00:28:55][42.5]

Batouly Camara: [00:28:56] In that moment, I never felt more like myself to finally have the opportunity where there was no switch happening, there was no unveiling happening. It was just me, and I felt so much like myself. And I wouldn't trade that first moment for anything, because it really rooted me in the decision that I made and the woman that I wanted to be in the life that I wanted to live. [00:29:18][22.4]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:29:19] That's next time on The Long Game. [00:29:19][0.0]

There’s an upside to hosting a mega-sized sporting event. Governments plan new roads and train stations and airports. Corporate sponsors and foreign investors pile on. And when you build it, people come. Different people, new people, who may not have visited before. Often, these mega-sized sporting events also bring with them a spotlight on whatever problems plague the host nation. For the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, that spotlight has led to increased international scrutiny of the treatment of migrant workers. But how effective is this mega-event activism? And what happens when the circus leaves town and the spotlight goes dark? Reporter Ken Shulman looks at three case studies—South Africa, Brazil, and, of course, Qatar—to learn more. Because this episode touches on labor issues in Qatar, a disclosure: Doha Debates is a production of the Qatar Foundation, which is a state-led nonprofit organization in Qatar.
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Episode 4

A Professional Basketball Player’s Hijab Journey

+ReadClose transcript

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:00] I qualified for my first Olympic team back in 2016. [00:00:02][2.7]

Newsclip: [00:00:04] No surprise that if Ibtihaj Muhammad has become one of the faces of Team USA. [00:00:07][3.7]

Newsclip: [00:00:08] This summer at Rio, she will become the first American athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab. [00:00:13][4.8]

Newsclip: [00:00:13] I mean, do you know how important that is? And what is a hijab? [00:00:17][3.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:00:17] I knew immediately that this journey was bigger than me. I was in a time and place where I had the opportunity to change the narrative for a global community, to set a new precedent of, you know, who a Muslim woman could be. You know, society never depicts Muslim women as athletes. We don't see ourselves, you know, when we walk in the sporting goods stores. So choosing to wear hijab and not being forced to wear hijab by anyone and feeling really comfortable and using my voice, I feel like I was ultimately shattering so many stereotypes. When I put on my fencing mask for the first time at 12 years old, there was so much power in that moment. No one knew underneath my mask that I was a girl or that, you know, I had brown skin or that I was Muslim and that I wore hijab. It was really more so about what I could bring to the table as an athlete. Like, how good could you be? That is what the foundation of sport is built on. It's about bridging people from different cultures, from different backgrounds who may even speak different languages and uniting them under this umbrella of really this ultimate goal of winning. That's what I've always loved about sport, and I feel like it's just a space where we can really create meaningful change in the world. [00:01:36][78.6]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:01:41] From Foreign Policy and Doha Debates, this is The Long Game, a podcast about the power of sports to change the world. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. Whenever an athlete steps onto a field, court, or fencing strip, they bring with them all that they are: their background, their lived experiences, their religion. But for some of us, our faith is a bit more visible than it is for others. As a college basketball player, Batouly Camara made three FInal Four appearances with the University of Connecticut. She's the daughter of immigrants, a children's book author, and she's founded her own nonprofit to help women and girls get access to sports and education. And if that's not enough, she's also one of the first Muslim women to play professional basketball in hijab. As-salaam alaikum, Batouly! How are you? [00:02:40][58.4]

Batouly Camara: [00:02:41] Alaikum-salaam. I'm doing well. How are you? [00:02:42][0.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:02:42] I'm good. It's so good to see you, to hear your voice. I'm just going to jump right in. I'm hoping we can start by clarifying something. As far as I can tell, you're the first Muslim woman to play professional basketball in hijab. But I keep hearing things that say you're one of the first. So which is it? [00:03:02][19.3]

Batouly Camara: [00:03:03] I am one of the first. I was the first one in Spain. It's been amazing to be connected to a few professional players in France and Egypt. So national teams such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia do have hijab wearing women. [00:03:17][14.0]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:03:18] That must be really liberating feeling to not be the only one on the court wearing hijab. Having other women who share the same faith. Being a representation of millions of people around the globe. You didn't wear hijab on the court at Yukon, but it's clear that you have been thinking about it for a while. Can you tell me a little bit about that? [00:03:39][20.8]

Batouly Camara: [00:03:40] Yes, it was -- it was really meaningful to me to understand that other women and other girls were playing the sport that they loved in hijab. And when I played at the University of Connecticut, and I was undergoing that transition, I always say that journey started probably two years prior to me actually taking hijab. But it was the next step of my spiritual journey that I didn't necessarily have the courage to make on the basketball court. I was wearing hijab in other spaces, but could never have the confidence to do it and to live my my full self on the court, a place that was so important to me. And so for me, there are about three core women who were in my circle when I was making that transition. Once I had a circle of amazing women who were in sport and who were wearing hijab, that definitely gave me a lot of confidence to do so and to know there's space for me and there's space for us in any facet, any game, and in any space. [00:04:33][53.4]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:04:34] So like you said, hijab is a journey. And it's different for every single woman. It was more of a lengthy journey for you. It took about two years before you made that decision to wear hijab full time. Can you talk a little bit about why it was difficult to make that jump? [00:04:50][16.1]

Batouly Camara: [00:04:51] I knew that once I started wearing it on the court, it was -- it was no longer personal. And that's what people don't understand. It's a personal journey. And when you're at some of the biggest stages in your life, you no longer have the luxury of of silence, if that is a luxury. You no longer have the ability to not speak on issues, which I've always wanted to, but it just was no longer mine and my journey. It became everyone's. It became a questioning. It became a "why." And, you know, so many different reasons that I had to kind of explain, you know, for my journey and something that was really personal to me. But then saying that it's a privilege to be on this platform and that if I have a chance to speak for for those who aren't necessarily get this opportunity, I have to take it. And it would be absolutely not ok for me not to do that, not to use this short time platform that I had in order to spread a message that was really important to me, but also that represented others. [00:05:50][58.2]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:05:50] I love that. Using your platform in meaningful ways is so important to me, as well. I know that not everyone was happy about your decision to wear hijab. Can you tell me a little bit about the agent who tried to change your decision? [00:06:03][12.3]

Batouly Camara: [00:06:04] Yes, there was an agent when I decided to go play baseball professionally, and like any athlete, this is the pinnacle of your career. This is what you look forward to as as a young person and as you're striving and you're going through the day to day actions of trying to improve your craft and. And I had very simple wants. I had very simple lists, you know. I wanted to get a certain amount. I wanted to be in a safe country, and I wanted to play in my hijab. And he was like, "That is absolutely not possible. That will not happen." He said, "I don't care what you do off of the court, you will not wear it out on the court." And it was very explicit. And I was a bit taken aback, but also, at that moment, I didn't know what to say. This is my first agent. I thought this was someone who was great for me, who would really represent me and want me to do my best. And so I didn't say anything in that moment, but it really triggered me deeply. It didn't sit right with me. I'm so thankful that I had enough support to say that this is not the agent who is going to represent you. [00:06:59][54.7]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:07:00] It's so important to have representation that understands your mission and understands who you are, and also just the importance of what representation and inclusion means, right? Not just off the court, but on the court as well. Can you take me to that moment when you finally stepped onto the court as a professional basketball player in hijab? What did that feel like for you, especially having people around you who were against this decision? What did that moment feel like? What was the crowd's reaction? [00:07:34][34.2]

Batouly Camara: [00:07:36] In that moment, I never felt more like myself to finally have the opportunity where there was no switch happening, there was no, you know, unveiling happening. It was just me, and I felt so much like myself, and I wouldn't trade that first moment for anything because it really rooted me in the decision that I made and the woman that I wanted to be and the life that I wanted to live. It was kind of like an inner moment and then an outer moment; I looked around, I said, "Oh my gosh." All I could picture was my sisters and those who are playing around the world and who were representing me, and I was now have the ability and the privilege to represent them on one of the highest ages of basketball, and so it was a very surreal moment. And it just made me remember: I don't want to take any of this for granted. And so I felt like myself, I felt like this was really important for me and for those who were experiencing this and for those who were going to experience a moment like this. [00:08:35][58.9]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:08:38] You would almost think that that would be the most difficult part, right, that last step in finally making that decision. And it's like God granted this permission and ease for you in that moment. How important were are your teammates during this time? [00:08:51][13.6]

Batouly Camara: [00:08:53] My teammates were incredibly important, because they just know me as me. You know, when people kind of see you how you see you, it's really important. And so we had discussions and we had conversations early on, and I think it was important for my teammates to see before our first game the questioning that was happening. So people would ask different questions, and I already had conversations with them so now they were speaking. You don't speak the language, but I saw them defending me in little ways that allowed us to build trust because for them, they saw me as their teammate. The person who was going to, you know, have their back on the court, the person who they had just went to war with in practice for over two months. And so for for outsiders to say anything was not okay with them, because now their teammate, and that's how they saw me. And that was that. [00:09:40][46.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:09:40] And that's one of the beautiful things about sport, right, is the ability to bridge cultures and people from different backgrounds, people who speak different languages. And have that support, I'm sure, made your journey a lot easier. We oftentimes forget how difficult it was for the people before us to kind of, you know, pave the way for our journeys to even be possible. I know that I had that not just being a hijab-wearing athlete, but particularly in the sport of fencing as a black athlete. There are a lot of prolific black athletes who made my journey possible, and for a long time, the International Basketball Federation, also known as FIBA, had a rule against headgear on the court. So for those who don't know the story, can you explain a bit about how that rule was lifted? [00:10:36][55.3]

Batouly Camara: [00:10:37] Yes. So a group of women, one of which was my really close friend Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, wanted to go play basketball professionally, and there was a ban against any headgear on. And essentially, it was a safety thing, and there were a ton of resources and documents that said that no one had ever been hurt wearing a headgear and that this was a rule that was honestly policing women's body and policing sport as a whole. But they had signatures. They went with international lawyers, and it was a huge, huge process for them. And I think over two years it took for them to get the hijab ban lifted as well as, you know, all international and all religious headgear and any campaign gear, essentially. That was a really big step for them, and it was interesting for that to be a full circle moment as I was in college and struggling with my hijab journey to see, you know, Bilquis go through her journey of not being able to play the game she loves and switched into a role of coaching. And then once I got to Spain, I remember the first day I was there she called me and said, "Spain was my dream country. Spain was where I wanted to go, and I'm so happy that you're there." And I said, "I'm so happy you fought that fight two years ago for me to be here." So it was a really beautiful full circle moment. [00:11:49][71.6]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:11:51] You're listening to The Long Game from Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. I'm your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. And now back to my conversation with Batouly Camara. You're the daughter of immigrants and your parents came to the United States from Guinea in the 1990's. What did your mother teach you about opportunities for girls and women in your home country? [00:12:19][27.4]

Batouly Camara: [00:12:21] My mom taught me at an early age that the opportunities were extremely limited. Celebrated, but limited. If you're a young girl growing up, you had two options and the first was to be a wife. That was your primary identity. That is what you strive to be. And the second was, was a mom. And the third would probably be a domesticated worker. And that -- that was it. And so opportunities are very limited for girls. And it wasn't until I started playing sports that I realized that women had other identities outside of those three. [00:12:55][34.0]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:12:56] I know that for me, fencing was a part of my life, because it allowed me to kind of exist as my true self, as an athlete without having to change parts of my uniform in order to play. Can you talk about how basketball was freedom for you? [00:13:12][16.6]

Batouly Camara: [00:13:13] Basketball gave me the ability to rewrite my story. And so once I started playing basketball, I saw women not just, you know, in the house, but they were doing amazing things. They were on the court. They were, you know, entrepreneurs. They were doctors. And this was all on the space of sports. They were so multifaceted in so many ways, and I was intrigued by this. I was intrigued by women showing emotion, women coming together, you know, the sisterhood. And that's what really drew me to the game was this sisterhood and just this shared experience of amazing women. And in my background, I grew up with amazing women, and so now to see them in a different light was really, really inspiring and important for me. [00:13:50][36.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:13:52] So how has faith played a part in kind of fulfilling your parent's dream for you, you know, growing up in the states? And also how has sport played a part in that? Because I feel like those things really have created so much opportunity for you. [00:14:12][20.1]

Batouly Camara: [00:14:13] I am so thankful that my parents just wanted me, above all else, to be a good human. And my father was a doctor and my mother was an amazing businesswoman and she still is. But their biggest focus was how do we assist the community? And so growing up, our house was packed, and I would see my father taking individuals to the hospital where he worked, you know, if they just came from Guinea or any country that they came from, providing them with that medical assistance. And then my mother had a huge boutique, and she would hire everyone. So one day it'd be a hair braiding salon, then it'd be like a barbershop or whatever that person who came from our country needed. She would financially provide it for them and allow them to be an entrepreneur and allow them to start their small business right in her boutique, which was huge and so it had two stories. And so we grew up in service and grew up in kindness in that what you want for yourself is what you want for others and what you give. And so that is what transcended, that is what continued as I started to play sport. My mother never called me to ask me if I had a great game. She asked me, "Are you being a good person? Are you serving your team? Are you able to sleep at night knowing you are kind and you do the best that you could? Did you want for your sisters and your friends what you wanted for yourself? Don't forget what you grew up on. Don't forget how you grew up and what's important to us." And so those values helped me to be a great teammate and help me to weather storms. And of course, you know the faith they instilled in me in knowing who I was and whose I was. And I think that is the highest achievement I think I've ever tried to accomplish is to be who they wanted me to be. [00:15:52][98.5]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:15:55] I love that Batouly. One of my favorite quotes from my favorite athlete of all time, Muhammad Ali: "The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth." And I think that that speaks so eloquently to like our faith as Muslims, right? This idea of constantly giving back and wanting to, you know, use the things that you're passionate about to help others. You took a trip to Guinea to run a basketball camp. How did that trip change your life? [00:16:29][33.6]

Batouly Camara: [00:16:31] When I went to Guinea in 2017 for the first time, I remember going to the stadium. And as a young girl, I always say my mom never shared, you know, bedtime stories. It was always a history lessons. It was fun facts. It was real life things about Guinea and where we were from even, you know, just growing up in New York City. And so once I got to Guinea, things were pretty clear. All of the stories came back to me. And then I heard from the girls, you know, what is your experience like here? And it was the same. It was, if, you know, I don't continue my education, I'm going to get married, and I'm going to start a family. And those are things that are amazing and are celebrated, but not necessarily for every age group. And the girls said, "We need an alternative. We just need an opportunity to fight for our dreams." And basketball can take us so far. Basketball can create other kind of jobs. It can allow me to be the head of my household. It can allow me to receive an education using sport as a catalyst for change. And so that was that moment in Guinea. Everything and all the stories that I've heard for the past 21 years came to life and then actually hearing it from the girls and it made me feel like, you know, this is my duty. And to have those girls say, "Well, now that I've seen you, I feel like it's possible and I've seen success in sport," I felt like it was my responsibility to not just instill hope, but actually access and resources and opportunity, which then led me to start my nonprofit, Women and Kids empowerment. [00:17:51][80.4]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:17:52] So Women and Kids Empowerment. I love your mission, Batouly. I know how important sport is, especially for women and girls. What are you hoping basketball will do for the youth of Guinea and the different communities that you work with? [00:18:10][18.0]

Batouly Camara: [00:18:12] I really hope that basketball can create transferable life skills for them that they can use everywhere. And so that was what it was for me. And even in the way that we create our programs, we have our women empowerment series that works on workshops or we have our basketball camps are in Guinea and New York or global camp or we go in with our resident trainers and have these huge camps that are usually two weeks or a month. Our biggest goal is for kids to have a safe space to play, to build community right where they are because they may not necessarily be connected to everyone around them. And also have resources that they can use to further their game or to just play. And I think that's so, so important. And so that's a big mission for us is continuing that. And right now we're working on infrastructure and creating basketball courts for kids to play and working on our second basketball court, which should be complete in December. But again, really making sure that kids understand that there are people who love them, who really want them to win and want to provide them with the access, resource and opportunity to be their best selves. And again, the main point to gain transferable skills that they can use throughout the rest of their life. [00:19:19][67.6]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:19:20] I know how important access is when we think about sport. There's so much privilege in growing up in the states and having the opportunity to go outside and play. And with the sport of basketball, the beautiful thing is all you need is a ball and a space to play. So your nonprofit, even creating space in Guinea for kids to play the sport that they love, we're hoping that there are a lot more Batouly's coming out of Guinea soon. [00:19:48][28.2]

Batouly Camara: [00:19:49] I think so. I think so. And it's powerful when you -- when you see a girl who's taller than you at a younger age. And she says, "I just need the opportunity to fight for my dreams," and then goes and shows you that every day. And so when you have those stories, it's hard not to be inspired. It's hard not to wake up and think of, "OK, what more can we do for them?" So I think there's a lot more better Batouly's coming. More just holistic women and are going to be change makers and blaze a way for the next generation of leaders in Guinea and around the world. [00:20:22][32.6]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:20:23] Inshallah. That's what we're hoping for. Batouly, we're both children's book authors, which I'm sure a lot of people don't know. Can you tell me a little bit about your children's book, A Basketball Game on Wake Street? [00:20:36][13.5]

Batouly Camara: [00:20:38] A Basketball Game on Wake Street is a book I wrote back in 2020, and I started writing it two years ago. I think two years is my mark these days. That's when I kind of know something is for me. And I started writing this book two years ago, and it was a book in my heart because, as a young girl growing up in New York City, you know, you see a lot of different things, but it was when I went to the library, it was when I read Matilda that I felt like I really traveled and I became a curious person and I wanted to know more. And I felt like the best way was through a book and going on a journey and getting to know people. And I wanted to trade that experience. I would go to Guinea and then I'd show my girls pictures of India, or I go to France and I show, you know, my -- my girls in France, my girls in Guinea or, you know, in New York. And, and I said, "What is the way for them to kind of build a relationship?" And that was through a book. Let me share these experiences, everybody in A Basketball Game on Wake Street is somebody that I know. And that book brings together a group of diverse girls with unique abilities together for a basketball game. And again, that was my experience in Spain. Everyone is, you know, different religious backgrounds. Everyone has different abilities, and we're coming together for a basketball game, and that was really important in that moment. This book is also in French and in Spanish, and we're working to create more languages just so that different girls around the world can say, "Wow, there are so many girls who play basketball, and I'm so thankful that I see myself in this book." And that's been the best reviews when young girls say, "I see myself. Thank you for seeing me and sharing me with the world." [00:22:11][92.9]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:22:13] That's so beautiful. I remember being a kid and not seeing characters that look like me. And so having the opportunity to create that work, which, by the way, two years is not a long time for a children's book, which I didn't know until, you know, embarking on that journey myself, but creating that opportunity for our kids to see themselves. But also, it becomes a window for others to see us, as well. Right? Seeing hijabi character, seeing brown characters on the pages is definitely expanding the minds of many. Eventually, and maybe someday soon, I hope we will no longer have to say that this person was the first to do this, or one of the first to do that. What do you hope changes as a result of the barriers that are being broken now? [00:23:03][49.9]

Batouly Camara: [00:23:04] I think you said it perfectly that there is no more first, that there is just the next and the greatest and the best, but no more first. And that makes me excited, because young people and changemakers want to take up space and they want to be in every space and have different interests and are so unique and are so dynamic. And that makes me really, really excited for the future. But I think you said it perfectly that there are no more firsts, just the next, just the best. [00:23:32][27.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:23:32] We have to acknowledge, you know, why firsts even happen, because there are barriers that were intentionally put in place, you know, to prohibit people who look like us from not only playing in sport but from existing. So dismantling, you know, those different rules and policies that are in place that affect underserved underprivileged communities, communities of color, really important. Which is why the work that you're doing, your presence, creating space for people who look like us to exist and thrive and to believe that their dreams are possible is so important. Batouly, thank you so much for the work that you are doing, for the work you will continue to do, not just on the court, but more importantly, off the court. You are just a beautiful person who is really creating change, meaningful change, in our global community. [00:24:28][55.4]

Batouly Camara: [00:24:29] Thank you so much. That means more than you know to hear. And I thank you for being one of my first role models and someone who continues to inspire me every day and pushes me to do more and to use my platform in intentional ways. So thank you so much for everything that you do and everything that you are. [00:24:45][15.8]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:24:46] Batouly, appreciate you. [00:24:46][0.0]

Batouly Camara: [00:24:48] I appreciate you. Thank you so much. [00:24:50][1.3]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:24:52] That's it for this episode of The Long Game. I'm your host Ibtihaj Muhammad. The Long Game is a co-production of Foreign Policy and Doha Debates. This episode was produced by Karen Given with help from Dan Ephron, Rob Sachs, Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah, and Jigar Mehta. Make sure to follow us on Apple or your favorite podcast app, and please leave us a review. To learn more, subscribe to Foreign Policy, a global magazine of news and ideas, or visit Doha Debates, a production of Qatar Foundation. Next week on the podcast, when South Africa was chosen to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it signaled the country's return to the international sports stage after the end of apartheid. But for the country's new leader, Nelson Mandela, the tournament was something more. It was a chance to help his young nation avoid catastrophe. [00:25:48][56.7]

Unidentified Speaker: [00:25:49] Mandela was very much aware of the need to try and solidify the foundations of the new South African democracy and avoid a civil war. [00:25:59][9.2]

Ibtihaj Muhammad: [00:26:01] That's next time on The Long Game. [00:26:01][0.0]

Whenever an athlete steps onto a field, court, or fencing strip, they bring with them all that they are: their background, their lived experiences, and their religion. But for some athletes, their faith is a bit more visible than it is for others. As a college basketball player, Batouly Camara made three Final Four appearances with the University of Connecticut. She’s the daughter of immigrants, a children’s book author, and the founder of Women and Kids Empowerment (WAKE Academy). Its a nonprofit dedicated to helping women and girls get access to sports and education. And if that’s not enough, she’s also one of the first Muslim women to play professional basketball wearing a hijab.
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Episode 5

How Rugby Helped Unify South Africa

The 1995 Rugby World Cup marked the end of apartheid and South Africa’s return to the international sports stage. The home team—known as the Springboks—weren’t expected to go far. Instead, they won it all. And if that sounds to you like the kind of thing Hollywood would make a movie about, you’re right. It’s the story at the center of Invictus, the 2009 film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The movie ends with Nelson Mandela being driven away from the stadium in Johannesburg, his car surrounded by overjoyed fans. But the true impact of that day—and that game—is still felt in South Africa today.
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Episode 6

How a Palestinian Female Soccer Player Started a Movement

Honey Thaljieh grew up in a battle zone. One day, on the streets of Israeli-occupied Bethlehem, she passed a group of boys playing soccer. By chance, they passed her the ball. Soon, Thaljieh discovered that she was a gifted athlete. But more than that, soccer became Thalijeh’s path to freedom and dignity. It took her to Europe and the United States, where she saw young people playing on manicured fields and living in peaceful conditions. In 2003, Thaljieh helped found the Palestinian Women’s National Football Team. She was named its first captain. Now retired from competition, Thaljieh works as a manager of corporate communications for FIFA.
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Episode 7

The Unstoppable Spirit of Paralympian Scout Bassett

When it comes to dealing with adversity, Scout Bassett has had more than her fair share. Born in Nanjing, China, she was abandoned after losing her leg in a fire when she was around 18 months old. At age 7, she was adopted by a family in the United States and had to adjust to a new language and new culture. From a young age, Bassett was passionate about sports and eventually learned to run using a prosthetic running leg. Bassett tells her story to host Ibtihaj Muhammad about how she made it to the Paralympic Games and in the process became an icon for perseverance and determination.
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Episode 8

How Mohamed Salah Changed Attitudes… and Other Athletes Can, Too

Mohamed Salah is one of the best forwards in the English Premier League. He is a Muslim, playing in a league that has a reputation for racism and Islamophobia. But that hasn’t stopped Liverpool fans from rallying around their star. Salah doesn’t give a lot of interviews about his faith. You won’t see him leading a lot of protests or marches. But he does put his faith on display—very publicly and very consistently. And since he’s started playing in Liverpool, Islamophobia in the surrounding area has dropped significantly. Now, social scientists are wondering what Salah’s popularity can teach us about how athletes can change attitudes.
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Episode 9

A Syrian Paralympian Who Competes for All Refugees

Ibrahim Al Hussein grew up watching the Olympics on TV. He was a swimmer. And he dreamed of someday being one of the athletes up on the podium. But that dream was put on hold when he lost his lower leg in a bomb blast and became one of the 5.6 million people who have left Syria since the start of the civil war. He still hasn’t been able to return to his home country, but in 2016, he became one of two athletes to compete in the Rio Summer Games as part of the Refugee Paralympic Team, which was formed by the International Olympic Committee in response to the number of stateless athletes looking for avenues to compete at the Olympics.
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Episode 10

How a Chilean Women’s Soccer Player Scored for Gender Equality

For as long as she can remember, Iona Rothfeld has loved playing soccer. But in Chile, soccer is considered a boys sport. When she was 13 years old, Rothfeld was named to the Chilean women’s national soccer team. She thought she had finally found a place where women’s soccer was respected. Instead, she was issued hand-me-down jerseys and told to shower in locker rooms that didn’t have hot water. In 2016, at the age of 23, Rothfeld founded the first union for women soccer players in Latin America. And things are finally starting to change in Chile.