MSNBC has the story of the fledgling Afghanistan Women’s Olympic Boxing team, training in the basement of a sports stadium once used by the Taliban to hold public executions:

As a member of the Afghan National Olympic committee and coach of the women’s boxing team, Sharifi faces a daunting task. He wants to create a winning team of female boxers.

Every afternoon, in the basement of Ghazi Stadium, in a small, dusty room with battered punch bags and cracked mirrors he oversees 20 teenage girls, as they jump, jog, jab and thrust.

“Yes, you see, the girls, they can do anything – and look at their strong punches!” he exclaimed.

The young Afghan boxers arrive at practice fully covered, looking like demure young ladies, but within 10 minutes of starting their rigorous workout, their headscarves are cast off, and they look like sportswomen from all over the world, glowing with health and beaming with hope.

The stars of the team are the Rahimi sisters – 18-year-old Shabnam and 17-year-old Sadaf. At the recent World Boxing Championship in Tajikistan, Shabnam won a gold medal and Sadaf a silver medal, making Afghan sports history.

Boxing is an unusual choice for any young woman, anywhere in the world, but in deeply conservative Afghanistan, it is an act of courage.

“Yes, we have a lot of problems. Here in Afghanistan they think we should stay home, not go to school, and never boxing,” said Sadaf. She said they have received threatening phone calls, but that has not stopped them.

Shabnam, her older sister, said she boxes not just for herself, but for her country. “My dream is that I should represent my country all over the world, especially in the Olympics, raising the flag for my country.”  

She brushed aside local criticism of female boxing. “I just want to box, shoulder to shoulder with the men, and show I can do it.”