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Maria Toorpakai Wazir

Professional Squash Player & Founder

ORGANISATION: Maria Toorpakai Foundation

Maria Toorpakai Wazir is a top-ranked squash player in a region of the world where girls aren’t allowed to participate in sports. To play, she disguised herself as a boy.

Toorpakai was born in Waziristan, Pakistan, a remote region commonly referred to as the “most dangerous place on earth,” where girls rarely go to school and certainly don’t play sports. Toorpakai, however, grew up differently from other girls. At the age of four, she burnt all her dresses, cut her hair, put on her brother’s clothes, and began to live life as a boy. Her father, a strong advocate for equal rights and opportunities for men and women, pushed tradition aside and allowed her to live disguised in order to flourish as an athlete.

When Toorpakai was 12 years old, still disguised as a boy, she was ranked #2 in Pakistan’s junior division for weightlifting. Soon after, she discovered squash. When the local squash academy in Peshawar required a birth certificate, her true identity was revealed. Fortunately, the director shared the same values as Toorpakai’s father and handed her a racquet anyway.

Once Toorpakai started competing in Pakistan, she and her family received death threats from the Taliban and it was no longer safe for her to compete or leave her family’s home. For three years, Toorpakai, trapped inside her home, hit a ball against her bedroom wall and never gave up hope. She sent thousands of emails to people around the world asking for help to leave Pakistan. One day her prayer was answered: Jonathan Power, a former champion squash player, asked her to come to Toronto and train with him.

Toorpakai has been living and training in Canada and is now ranked number 47th in the world. She still plays for Pakistan.


The speakers

Using the unique power of sport to bring people together, the Olympism in Action Forum sees a range of global players, including Olympic Movement stakeholders, athletes, private and public sector leaders, NGO representatives, academics, artists and the media come together to talk on topical contemporary issues. Chosen because of their ability to effect change and their wide range of sometimes differing opinions, the speakers will lead lively debates and seek to challenge received wisdom to inspire new ways of thinking.

Meet the speakers.
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