From fleeing the Taliban to a role with IOC Women’s Commission
By HOWARD HARDING – Squash Mad International Correspondent
Pakistan squash star Maria Toorpakai Wazir has been appointed to the International Olympic Committee’s Women in Sport Commission in a role that will see her assist the IOC in the development and implementation of their women and sport policy.
Toorpakai, who hails from the highly conservative region of Waziristan, is one of the most inspirational squash players of all time. Her remarkable journey to become a professional athlete saw her disguise herself as a boy in order to train, compete and attend school in a Taliban-controlled area of Pakistan – where girls rarely leave their homes and the idea of women competing in sport is regarded as un-Islamic.
Despite receiving death threats from the Taliban against her and her family, Toorpakai overcame almost universal hostility to forge a career as a professional squash player. The 26-year-old is now the highest-ranked female squash player in Pakistan.
Toorpakai is a strong advocate for equality and joins the Women in Sport Commission as part of a 70 per cent increase in female participation across the IOC Commissions since September 2013, with 38 per cent of the IOC Commissions taken up by women.
As part of her role in the Women in Sport Commission, Toorpakai will advise the IOC Session, the IOC Executive Board and the IOC President on promoting the rights and well-being of women and girls in sport, promoting the use of sport as a tool for gender equality and empowerment and raising awareness of harassment and abuse in sport.
“It’s definitely very exciting news for me and for all of us,” said Toorpakai (pictured above with coach Jonathon Power, the former world No.1 from Canada). “I can play a better role from this position for athletes and girls in sports.
“The Olympics is a stage where the whole world unites and shows their human power. It’s our duty to provide all the athletes, male and female, with equal opportunities and a safer and respectable environment.
“All countries should use human potential to its full and it’s important for world peace and our economic stability. Inequality, injustice and exclusion leads to the waste of immense talent and ideas, reduces human performance and leads to complete chaos and destruction.
“I really appreciate IOC President Thomas Bach’s efforts to introduce more women to the IOC Commissions. It was a much-needed step and it will definitely improve female athletes’ participation in the Olympics. I am very hopeful that these changes will have a positive impact on this coming Olympic Games.”
Ashley Bernhard, Deputy Chairman of the Professional Squash Association (PSA), said: “As a vocal advocate for women’s rights and equality in sport, Maria is an exceptional role-model and we look forward to her using her experiences and providing her ideas to further the goal of equal participation for women in sport.
“Maria’s incredible story, which saw her triumph in the face of adversity, can inspire and empower women in all four corners of the globe and we are delighted that she will be able to contribute to the Women in Sport Commission.”
Maria’s amazing journey from humble origins and death threats in Pakistan, to a global role in the world of women’s sport, has been chronicled in her book, A Different Kind Of Daughter.
World Squash Federation President Jacques Fontaine added: “Every player has a journey, and but very occasionally there is one that is very special and transcends her sport. Maria’s is one of those. She is a most admirable young woman whose experiences will inspire everybody.
“Her enthusiasm to fight for others following her own battles is one that the IOC’s Women in Sport Commission will be able to use to advocate ever more strongly for women.”
About the Women in Sport Commission:
The role of the Women in Sport Commission is to advise the IOC Session, the IOC Executive Board and the IOC President on the development and implementation of the IOC women and sport policy. The mission of the Women in Sport Commission is to promote equal opportunities for girls and women to participate in, and benefit from, sport and physical activity.
Pictures from Squash Mad archives