More than 96 female footballers and their family members have fled across the border of Afghanistan to Pakistan with the help of the Pakistan football federation. The evacuation comes just over two weeks after the final US flights left Kabul airport, ending 20 years of military involvement in the country.
The group includes a number of national team players unable to escape in 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 the Herat province in north-west Afghanistan had been displaced after some had houses burned down and family members were caught by the Taliban. They hid in Kabul while awaiting help in getting out.
According to the former national team captain Khalida Popal, part of the team that helped get between 100 and 200 athletes out of the country on planes last month, three days ago a small group of the players’ fathers and brothers in hiding were caught by the Taliban as they waited to escape.
“It was the toughest thing to tell the players to not look back,” she said. “They were crying, 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 the efforts, 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 entire team went silent while we waited to see any calls coming in to say they were safe. I’m truly humbled by these young girls’ and their families’ show 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 football federation vice-president Sardar Naveed and the Pakistan embassy, which granted temporary visas.
Last week, the Taliban announced that women would be banned from participating in all sports. In an interview with the Australian broadcaster SBS the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said it was “not necessary” for women to be involved in sport and that “Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed