Basketball: Afghan star makes debut in Spain after leaving Kabul

Nilofar Bayat and her husband Ramesh Naik Zai talk ahead of their debut game for mixed-gender team Bidaideak, on Oct 2, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

BILBAO (REUTERS) - The captain of the Afghan women's wheelchair basketball team made her debut for her new Spanish side on Saturday (Oct 2) to cheers and applause just over a month after fleeing Kabul when the Taliban came to power.

Nilofar Bayat, 28, and her husband Ramesh Naik Zai, 27, were offered the chance to play for Bidaideak Bilbao BSR, a wheelchair basketball team in the northern city of Bilbao.

They arrived in Madrid from Kabul on Aug 20 on a flight with 100 other refugees thanks to efforts by the Spanish government and the Spanish Basketball Federation.

"I have never had this much kindness and this much respect. When I saw how welcoming they are... I felt that here can be my second home, I can be very happy here," Bayat, 28, told Reuters after the game.

It was the first time Bayat had played on a mixed team. On Saturday, she was the only woman playing for Bidaideak Bilbao BSR in the side's friendly match against Fundacion Vital Zuzenak.

"It was very new for me, in Afghanistan it's not like this," she said. "The teams are very separated and we do not play together, but it was very nice."

Bayat rolled onto the court to a standing ovation from the crowd. Afterwards, she and her husband were presented with flowers.

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