KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan's only Olympic medallist, taekwondo star and national hero Rohullah Nikpa, announced Tuesday that he would boycott international competition unless reforms root out discrimination and mismanagement within the sport in his country.
The 26-year-old said he would not compete in this week's WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Puebla, Mexico, to protest against poor management and discrimination within Afghanistan's Taekwondo Federation (ATF).
"It has been there, discrimination and mismanagment. It is like a clique, a group of people have taken over the ATF and are doing whatever they want with no regard to athletes' needs," Nikpa told AFP.
"This situation has negatively affected our abilities - both physically and psychologically... I hereby announce I will no longer represent Afghanistan on the international stage unless serious reforms are made in the ATF," he added.
The decision by the twice Olympic bronze medallist will be viewed as a step backwards for the war-torn country. As a member of the minority Hazara community, he is seen by Afghans as a unifying figure.
The ATF rejected Nikpa's allegations, saying that the athlete had informed the organisation a month ago that he would not go to Mexico because of injury.
No Afghans are competing in Mexico, because they were denied visas in India, officials have confirmed.
"All his wins since 2009 were under the current ATF leadership. We cannot understand why he is making these accusations," secretary general Mirwais Bahawi told AFP.
Nikpa denies pulling out due to injury, saying that a recurring knee problem did not stop him from competing and winning a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
Trainer Mohammed Bashir Taraki also resigned recently, telling AFP it was to protest against mismanagement, favouritism and poor selection decisions within in the ATF.
"He (the head of the ATF) brings people from his own taekwondo club to the federation regardless of their capabilties and professionalism, and sends fighters fom his own club to take part in international competitions, not the people who really deserve it," he said.
The ATF says it has documents to disprove all the allegations.
Nikpa is a fairytale hero in a war-ravaged country.
As a 10-year-old obsessed with Bruce Lee and martial arts movies, he followed his brother to the taekwondo club while civil war raged in Afghanistan.
He was 14 when the Taliban regime fell at the end of 2001 and began training in Kabul in earnest while a bloody insurgency against the government and its NATO allies raged throughout the country.
Partly thanks to Nikpa, taekwondo has become one of the most popular sports in Afghanistan. Around 25,000 competitors -- up to 38,000 according to Bahawi -- practise in hundreds of clubs around the country, though facilities are sometimes basic.