More than 96 female soccer players and their family members have fled across the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan with the help of the Pakistan Football Federation. The evacuation comes just over two weeks later last flights in the United States left Kabul airport and ended 20 years of military service in the country.
The group includes a number of national team players who cannot escape the first round of evacuations, members of the youth team and members of the Herat team that won the Afghan Women’s Premier League in October 2020.
The team from Herat province in the northwest Afghanistan had been displaced after some had burned houses and family members were captured by the Taliban. They hid in Kabul waiting for help to get out.
According to former national team captain Khalida Popal, part of the team as helped get between 100 and 200 athletes of the country on a plane last month, three days ago a small group of players’ fathers and brothers who were hiding were captured by the Taliban while waiting to flee.
“It was the hardest thing to tell the players not to look back,” she said. “They cried, they are still crying. It was very difficult to get them to the border. ”
The CEO of the RokiT Foundation, Siu-Anne Marie Gill, who helped with the effort, said: “Waiting for the news that they had crossed the border after getting stuck in no man’s land was one of the hardest emotional hours of my life.
“The whole team was silent while we waited to see if there would be any calls to say they were safe. I am really humbled by these young girls and their family’s display of strength and courage to fight for life. It gave us all strength. ”
The group was able to get out with the support of the former Pakistan Sardar Naveed, Vice President of the Football Association, and the Embassy of Pakistan, which granted temporary visas.
Last week, the Taliban announced that women would be prohibited from participating in any sport. In an interview with the Australian broadcaster SBS, the deputy head of the Taliban’s Commission on Culture, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said that “it was not necessary” for women to be involved in sports and that “Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the type of sport to which they are exposed ”.