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Women's National Soccer Team Flees Afghanistan

Players, family members cross into Pakistan after 'commitment' from Americans
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2021 7:56 AM CDT
Women's National Soccer Team Flees Afghanistan
Members of Afghanistan's women soccer team and their families pose for a photograph in Lahore, Pakistan, on Wednesday.   (AP Photo/Waleed Ahmed)

(Newser) – Afghanistan's national women's soccer team has joined the throngs of people, especially women, fleeing the country since the Taliban's takeover. The team reached neighboring Pakistan via a major border crossing in the city of Torkham and were received by a representative of the Pakistan Football Federation, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed Tuesday, per Reuters. Farasat Ali Shah, a PFF director, told Bloomberg that "there was a commitment which was given to them by the outgoing Americans" before their exit. He said the women were issued Pakistani visas by the embassy in Kabul.

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They are just the latest female athletes to flee Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Khalida Popal, a former captain of the national women's team who left Afghanistan in 2011 and now lives in Denmark, warned female players to burn their uniforms and close their social media accounts as women were banned from school, work, and sports under the Taliban's previous rule, per the Guardian. Last week, the deputy head of the Taliban's cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, confirmed the government would not permit women to "play the kind of sports where they get exposed."

Three players from Bastan Football Club, a Herat women's team; a coach, and some of their family members fled Afghanistan for Italy weeks ago, for fear they would be targeted, per the New York Times. The team was featured in a 2017 documentary, Herat Football Club, in which the coach described receiving repeated threats from the Taliban. One 19-year-old player told the Times that "playing football makes me feel powerful and an example for other girls, to show that you can do anything you want to do." Since arriving in Italy, she said she'd had the chance to kick around with boys—something she'd never done before.

Soccer's governing body, FIFA, said it was involved in evacuating athletes from Afghanistan as of late last month, per the BBC. Australia received more than 50 female Afghan athletes by Aug. 24, Reuters reported. "The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan," Popal said at the time. FIFPRO, the worldwide association of professional soccer players, noted the women had been "in a position of danger." "There are also many athletes still at risk in Afghanistan and every effort should be made to offer them support," it added. (Read more female athletes stories.)

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