February 3, 2023

Afghan women footballers who fled Taliban want to be a voice for the voiceless

7 min read

Editor’s note: CNN is not using the full names of the players in this story to protect them.


Although she says the images run through her mind like a movie, it’s a scene she could never have imagined: the end of her world as she knew it, and possibly His own death.

“They were killing our parents, our family members, our comrades,” Fatima, a spokeswoman for the Afghan women’s national football team, told CNN Sport. “You didn’t know if you would live or die soon.”

The scenario being described is the fall of Kabul in 2021 and the unique rush to get out of Afghanistan before the Taliban gain full control of the country.

Women and girls were particularly vulnerable, as they thought of the future as just waiting to evaporate before their eyes. “You are losing your dreams in the blink of an eye,” Fatima added.

Earlier this year, the United Nations warned that “virtually every man, woman and child in Afghanistan could face extreme poverty”, while in March the Taliban sent girls above the sixth grade to school. Backtracked on their much-anticipated promise to allow

– Source: CNN

How the Afghan women’s soccer team made its way to Australia

Afghanistan’s women’s national football team is a group of strong and independent women who knew they would be in the Taliban’s crosshairs. They were anxious to flee, as fear and terror gripped Kabul last year when it overran the city.

His proud achievements, everything he had worked for, suddenly became radioactive. Identifying social media accounts were cleared and valuable football shirts, shoes, medals and trophies were burned.

For some, the height of their position could be fatal.

At least one member of the team was identified for crushing people outside the airport. “Oh look, there’s a player on the Afghan national football team,” someone was heard to say. To save their lives, the players had to lie to the Taliban and refuse.

He spent two days in hiding outside the airport and two more days before boarding the C-130 transport planes that would take him to safety.

They came out on time – 48 hours later, a suicide bomber killed about 180 people, including 13 American soldiers and women. CNN has been told that some US military personnel killed in the blast helped rescue the players.

But it was the moment when the wheels of the planes came off the ground, as those huge human lifeboats were thundering in the sky, that the emotions hit the players with waves.

When Fatima was asked about her feelings for the flight, she apparently hesitated and apologized for the interview.

“Your question is very deep,” she says, once composing herself, adding: “We’ve all given up. You know you won’t have the things you have.” You don’t know about your future. You are saying goodbye to your country where you grew up, your childhood moments, many memories.

Many were forced to leave their families in a precarious situation, and for some players, the weight of their guilt was crushed at that moment.

These Afghan women footballers are adapting to a new life in Australia.

It’s been eight months since the Afghan players were airlifted safely and many have found themselves in Melbourne, Australia.

For some sports fans, Melbourne is the capital of the world, the Formula One Australian Grand Prix, the Australian Open tennis tournament, and the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground. But for these Afghan players, it is their new home.

Melbourne Victory Soccer Club has taken the Afghan team under its wing and is providing facilities and coaching to enhance their capabilities.

Football director John Dedolika outlined the team’s sporting opportunities and one-day goal to play in the World Cup qualifiers, but stressed that this is basically a humanitarian program at the moment.

“My first hope is a better life, they have very complex personal circumstances and if football can help them get a foothold in Australian life, that is our ultimate goal,” Didolica told CNN Sport.

“Football has a responsibility not only to support its participants but also to show the best of humanity and the best of people.

“And I think this team works as a totem pole, to some extent, for a lot of the good things we see in football. They deserve what the game can offer them.

Australian club Melbourne Victory and team director of football John Dedolika (bottom right) provide support to Afghan women players.

When she has to make big changes in her life, Fatima says she has discovered something she did not expect: peace and security.

“I’ve never felt this way in Afghanistan before,” he explained. “I was afraid of a lot of things. [But] I found it here, peaceful moments. I said, ‘Enough. you are alive. you made it.'”

“Australia is a multicultural country,” Marcel told CNN Sport. “They accept all kinds of people. They don’t ask us, ‘Are you a Muslim? Are you a Christian? That’s a good thing and Australians are such kind people. I like it.’

Yet life is still complicated. The backup goalkeeper, Montaha, grabbed her 15-year-old brother’s hand and fled Afghanistan.

Now, he is responsible for taking care of himself, raising his brother, working, studying and maintaining his dream of playing international football.

At least she is surrounded by role models she could not have imagined returning to Afghanistan.

“Women are playing better football here than men, that’s all, magical stuff! I was like, ‘Wow, there are women. [more] More powerful than men. ‘ And that was the happiest thing for me.

It is unclear whether Afghan women will be able to compete as an international team in exile.

In late April, the Afghan team played its first match together since fleeing last August. In one of their last training sessions, the players were reunited with their former coach. American helicopter.

As a former Marine, Carter was one of the team’s patron angels, pulling the strings and working on the back channels to get them out safely.

“It’s exciting to see them on the pitch again,” Carter said. “There is a sense of hope and optimism about what the future will bring.”

She believes that the revival of the team is a powerful moment that transcends all of them.

Afghanistan’s women’s national team plays for everyone. Every woman, every athlete, every sport, even non-athletes. They represent the strength of Afghan women, the strength and resilience of Afghan women.

“And they are a reminder to women, everywhere, that collectively we can do whatever we want with our minds, and we are stronger than others think.”

But like so many other aspects of his story, it’s bitter for Carter.

She can’t help thinking about the players who couldn’t get out, the families left behind and the young soldiers who sacrificed their lives to save many lives. “It’s heavy,” Carter admits. “It’s the weight that hangs over things.”

The joy of playing football provides an important release for these Afghan women footballers as they adjust to their new lives in Australia.

There is still a lot of uncertainty for this team and these players.

It is unclear whether FIFA will allow them to play under the Afghan flag and name and compete as an international team in exile. But no matter what, the power of their existence cannot be doubted.

“Nothing can stop us. We want to show the Taliban that we are never going to stop,” Montaha reprimanded.

The Taliban do not allow girls to go to school or university. We want to be a voice for the voiceless who are still in Afghanistan, we want to reassure the Taliban that they can never change anything.

Montaha says the spirit in the team is stronger than ever and they definitely need to be stronger for each other now.

Between the smiles and the laughter on the field, it would be easy to overlook the enormous damage done by their trials. It all starts from scratch, some can’t speak English, it’s hard to celebrate a birthday without the presence of their family, and parents’ meetings at school are painful reminders of the absence of their loved ones.

Fatima says she does her best to pick up her teammates whenever she feels depressed.

“I try to be helpful and give her the courage to stay strong. Be positive that one day your parents will be with you, and they will celebrate your day.

Helicopter (pictured above left) helped Afghan women footballers escape the Taliban through the Americans.  In April 2016, Carter joined the Afghan national women's team as an assistant coach.

It is impossible to know the future of this team of players, but individually, in their lives, they must find themselves.

Fatima says she dreams of becoming a businesswoman. “I’m trying to get it,” he encouraged. “Every day has encouraged me to stay positive and work harder. I will feel stronger.”

Carter has no doubt that they all have a bright future ahead of them.

“The sky is the limit for this group. They have clearly proven to everyone that they are capable of incredible things.”

She acknowledges that some people face personal challenges in adjusting to a new life in a new country, and she shares one such conversation.

“She is frustrated because she is starting her life from scratch. I told her, ‘Think about all the opportunities you have now. You can do whatever you want. This is the beginning of the rest of your life. Yes, so dream big! ‘

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