Snowboarder Victor Davitt narrates 'Unrealistic' handover of Afghan team threatened with death by Taliban

Snowboarder Victor Davitt narrates ‘Unrealistic’ handover of Afghan team threatened with death by Taliban

Victor Davitt breathes: “It’s still a hell story.” Since last summer, the 32-year-old professional athlete has been on the front lines of handing over 14 members of the Afghan National Skateboarding Team, who were threatened with death by the Taliban for playing the sport.

Annecy, vice-champion of European downhill swimming in 2010, could not have imagined embarking on such an adventure that contributed to the birth of the Solidarity Skating Society (SOS). From unlikely competition in Pakistan a year ago to picking up 14 young Afghans (including five women) aged between 19 and 23, says snowboarder 20 minutes This crazy rescue.

Victor Davitt was the European Downhill Vice Champion in 2010 before majoring in freestyle videos.
Victor Davitt was the European Downhill Vice Champion in 2010 before majoring in freestyle videos. – Suleiman

How did you deal with the Afghanistan national ice skating team?

I left in January 2021 for Pakistan with Julian “Becca” Heri, a famous Chamonix guide, excellent freestyle snowboarder, and organizer of excursions there. He created the ZOM Connection Association for the development of winter sports in Pakistan, so we went there to distribute equipment there. We also trained Pakistanis in figure skating, skating tours and ice hockey. You should know that Pakistan has a population of 228 million and only 3,000 skiers and snowboarders. At Malam Jabba station, there was a good international competition the roots, with only one Belgian lift, hence the Afghan team that was established shortly before. For a week, we stayed in the same hotel as dozens of Afghans and spent our evenings drinking tea with them.

What does snowboarding look like in Afghanistan?

They have 20 skateboards across the country, and that’s the equivalent of what I get every year of personal gear. They do not have a station, they do not have a prepared trail. They only exercise their passion next to the roads, on the trails. For most of them, it was their first time in a wheelchair at Malam Jabba. But their team is well organized, around the many members who were in the skating societies. It seems that the beginnings of snowboarding in France actually. They are a little far from time, and on the level too (smile). Seeing their reactions made me feel like a superhero on my skateboard. Once I make a little character, it’s like I’m doing a magic trick.

Do you then plan to meet again?

Yes, since I am making a series of videos about snowboarding, Trip Roulette, I thought I needed to showcase these adorable little guys. So the plan was for me to go to Afghanistan this winter to wave with them on the ice. Then this call came from the head of the Afghan team on August 17 at 8:30 am, while I was on vacation with my girlfriend in Paris. He told me: “You are currently the closest person to us in the West. I am sorry, our trip together in Afghanistan will not be possible. But you must definitely help us out of the country because we have received letters from the Taliban threatening us with death.”

Mostly young Afghan skaters first discovered a prepared sled for the first time last year in Pakistan.
Mostly young Afghan skaters first discovered a prepared sled for the first time last year in Pakistan. – in Devit

heavy responsibility…

That’s right, I have a big heart, but I’m just a good snowboarder. My first instinct was to go straight to the Afghan embassy in Paris. I found myself in the midst of so many people, without getting the slightest answer. To try to help the team, I then began writing on Twitter to the French ambassadors in Kabul, to the senators, but there are clearly millions of people in this situation. I also asked for help on Instagram and Facebook to infiltrate these guys. This was a mistake in part because it exposed them quite a bit online.

But this is where we see that social networks can still play a positive role at times. Because my posts made it possible to create a group on Telegram that brings together volunteers who are intent on helping these young people. I came across real little angels willing to accompany this story, including The Two American Angels, a lawyer and very connected person, as well as Laurent Bourdy of the French Figure Skating Federation and my friend, photographer and director Jerome Tannon. Only the big-hearted people we’ve created Snowboarders of Solidarity with.

What was the most tense moment in allowing these 14 young Afghans to leave their country?

It was necessary to find funds as well as local contacts to get them out, either by air or by road. Missions have come and gone, with huge twists and turns. From Checkpoints It exploded when everything was settled. In September, a once-private militia was called in to smuggle them out of the country by land. We had all the documents, Pakistani and Canadian visas. But these visas were not enough to cross the border, while we were able to bring them from Kabul there. It was a fiasco. We really thought we were in a secret agent movie, which was unreal.

How did these young people experience all these twists and turns?

You should know that they did not grow up under the Taliban regime despite their young age. They lived a bit Western style, and some spoke good English in the band. And there, they are young twenty-somethings who had to leave family, school, past, and absolutely everything, overnight, to preserve their skin, even the skin they were putting at risk by staying in the country. All without money because the Taliban closed their bank account. The five young women were more targeted by the Taliban regime, so they had to be taken out first.

Young Afghan snowboarders were the most threatened last summer by the Taliban's return to power.
Young Afghan snowboarders were the most threatened last summer by the Taliban’s return to power. – in Devit

What was the result of these multiple attempts to deliver?

Thirteen members of the team left in October by air. He was a little bit into keeping who could situation. We put them wherever we can on the planes. When the American forces left at the end of August, the crackdown was tightened and we did what we could. The last one remained reluctant to leave his family and finally left Afghanistan last week. We didn’t want to convey this whole story earlier so as not to make him take more risks. We took a lot of precautions and now we need help, especially in terms of political contacts.

Are they all safe now?

Seven of them are staying together temporarily in a country bordering Afghanistan, in a precarious situation with a tourist visa. We are looking for a host country that will grant them asylum. We cannot get a visa for them because unfortunately it is no longer a hot topic in the eyes of the world. We no longer see Afghans falling from planes to save their skin on social media. The other seven young people are scattered around the world between Canada, the United States, Germany and Sweden.

What are the association’s priorities for these seven young people?

With Snowboarders of Solidarity, we have raised nearly €5,000 to help them through crowdfunding on GoFundMe. Personally, I put 3000 euros out of my pocket, and the team around this story supports them as best they can. We can see that the figure skating community is a big family. For those already in a Western host country, we want to allow them to better integrate into their new lives, get back into figure skating, and connect them to universities. You have to remember that they lost everything. We want to bring them a little happiness.

Victor Davitt, during Sosh Big Air in Annecy in October 2017.
Victor Davitt, during Sosh Big Air in Annecy in October 2017. — Christophe Simon/AFP

Do you dream of collecting them all someday, in France or elsewhere?

Yes, but we have not received any response from the French government yet. Ideally, they would surely like to get together. At first, it appears to be a utopia. It would be amazing to be able to ice skate with them again one day.

In the messages you always exchange with these guys today, is snowboarding still part of their dreams?

Yes, their base team’s goal was to represent their country in an international competition. The desire to achieve this through a new sport was an over-modern approach on their part. Especially for the women of the team, going snowboarding in Afghanistan was a huge deal. They now want to participate in the Olympic Games as a team of refugees.

How has your life as a freelance professional changed in the past five months?

It’s simple, I’ve only seen it during all this time. When you have 14 people who are counting on you to save their lives… We’re still there, selling dreams as top athletes. Life is beautiful to us: running on the banks of Lake Annecy, drinking beer with friends, climbing such and such a summit … No, I no longer saw any pleasure in that. The only project that was important was getting them out of Afghanistan. Implemented. It’s a nice big first step and they are always so grateful for the messages. But this is only the beginning of their new life.

You can find the container organized by Snowboarders of Solidarity to help Afghan refugees here.

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