A group of young, Afghan female athletes who are spreading the sport of soccer to their fellow countrywomen will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at The 2006 ESPYS co-presented by GMC and Under Armour, Sunday, July 16 at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. Presented annually to individuals whose contributions transcend sports, the Ashe Award has become the emotional pinnacle of the industry-wide sports celebration which will be hosted this year by Lance Armstrong, with presenters and guests including Will Ferrell, LeBron James, Mariah Carey, Ben Roethlisberger, Ashley Judd, Reggie Bush, Greg Kinnear, Venus Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Shaun White, Rosario Dawson, Terrell Owens and Jake Gyllenhaal, among others.
"Just five years removed from the Taliban's rule, these girls are helping to spark a women's revolution by simply playing a sport that they love," said Maura Mandt, executive producer of The 2006 ESPYS. "The young girls that we are honoring are showing the same courage that Arthur Ashe showed when he went to South Africa during apartheid: using sports to further freedom. We are glad to be able to help them share their story with the world, as the idea of female athletes competing in the open becomes more acceptable in their home country."
This year's recipients have exemplified courage playing in organized soccer leagues in post-Taliban Afghanistan often on fields near where atrocities against their family members and friends took place. These leagues formed after a handful of girls from Afghanistan's capital of Kabul traveled to the U.S. in the summer of 2004 to attend soccer clinics as part of the newly created organization the Afghan Youth Sports Exchange (AYSE). They returned home eager to spread what they learned. Two of the girls who visited the U.S. that summer and still play soccer – 18-year old Shamila Kohestani and 16-year old Roia Ahmad – will accept the award on stage at the ESPYS.
AYSE founder Awista Ayub, said, "I have seen the role soccer plays in the lives of Shamila, Roia and hundreds of other female soccer players in Afghanistan, as I watched them grow from girls into confident young women and strong leaders. As an Afghan I know that when children are suddenly given the tools to change their lives, they embrace the opportunity to improve their own world, and as an American, I know that helping Afghanistan ensures a more secure world. After 30 years of war Afghan girls can once again become leaders. Sports are rapidly becoming the gateway to leadership, peace and equality in Afghanistan."
Currently, 15 teams consisting of girls ranging in age from 12 to 18 play in Kabul, practicing in difficult conditions, in traditional head-to-toe garb, with minimal transportation to and from practice. Despite these hardships, participation in girls' soccer in the country is growing with more Afghans accepting the girls and supporting their efforts.
**Viewers can read more about the girls and the founder of AYSE, Awista Ayub, who is featured as Hero of the Month in GLAMOUR's July issue on newsstands now.