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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Asylum-seeker finally realises disrupted sporting dreams in peace


BY:NICOLAS PERPITCH 
December 27, 2012 12:00AM

FORMER Afghan asylum-seeker Hussain Sadiqi has won a gold medal in kung fu at an international martial arts competition, 13 years after his dream of competing on the world stage was dashed when his then Taliban-ruled homeland was banned from the Sydney Olympics.

A Hazara refugee living in Perth, he now plans to start a non-government organisation to promote education and sport in remote areas of Afghanistan, starting in Hazara-majority Bamyan province.

"When I left Afghanistan, my journey was one of freedom and I travelled to find my freedom, but my journey back to Afghanistan is one of hope, especially for young people," he said.

Sadiqi, 33, outperformed his younger competitors and impressed the judges with his kung fu technique at the 69-nation World Martial Arts Festival on the Iranian island of Kish in the Persian Gulf in October, and has just returned from touring Europe with a solo "standard form" demonstration of ability rather than combat against an opponent.

The former Afghan national champion represented his Perth-based Shaolin kung fu school, not the Australian national team.

Sadiqi left his village in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province and arrived by boat at Ashmore Reef in 1999 before being sent to the Port Hedland detention centre for six months, until he was released on a temporary protection visa.

Local Afghans put him in touch with the Northern Alliance-staffed Afghan embassy in Canberra and he was asked to compete in taekwondo for the Afghan team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Days before the games started, the International Olympic Committee banned Afghan athletes because the Taliban, which controlled most of Afghanistan, would not let women compete.

Sadiqi said the Australian team had been interested in recruiting him a year or two later but he could not compete because he was not a permanent resident.

He was then sidelined from trying out for the 2004 Athens Olympics because of injury.

He had planned to attend the World Martial Arts Festival in Iran as a spectator but a friend convinced him to come out of retirement to prove he could compete at an international level, despite his past disappointments.

"Every time I tried to do it, there were always problems because I came from Afghanistan. But now I live in Australia, a civilised country, and I have the opportunity to do that," he said.

Travelling in Europe, Sadiqi met with Hazaras from different countries, including unaccompanied minors in detention centres in Holland and Turkey, whom he told, "It doesn't matter if you're a refugee because you now live in a country of peace and can reach your dream".

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