Women's Afghan football team evacuated safely from Kabul
“These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger."
The women's Afghan football team and a group of other female athletes have been evacuated safely from Kabul.
Seventy-seven athletes, including members of the country's national football team, women’s football officials, and the youth team, have left on a plane to Australia, the Guardian reports.
The team's union, Fifpro, alongside former captain Khalida Popal and other campaigners, had been pushing for the team to be added to evacuation lists for days.
It has been reported that some athletes were beaten by the Taliban as they crossed checkpoints on the way to the airport. The athlete's visas were approved by Australian officials earlier this week.
Thanks to the work of many individuals and our friends in Australia, after 72 hours of all-day and all-night ops, over 75 Afghan WNT athletes, officials, and family are finally wheels up. A brief pause to appreciate all of those who made this happen… pic.twitter.com/ybiMVL2c8L
— Haley Carter (She/Her) (@H_C_Carter) August 24, 2021
“We are grateful to the Australian government for evacuating a large number of women footballers and athletes from Afghanistan,” read a statement. “These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger and on behalf of their peers around the world we thank the international community for coming to their aid.
“There remains much work to do to support and settle these young women and we urge the international community to make sure that they receive all the help they need. There are also many athletes still at risk in Afghanistan and every effort should be made to offer them support.”
Female athletes are particularly at risk from the Taliban due to the banning of civilian sports from 1996 to 2001. During this time, women were not permitted to get an education or leave their home without the company of a male relative.
Goalkeeping coach Wida Zemarai told Swedish publication Expressen: "It's awful to think about. They themselves have said they are there to do jihad and that they choose girls as sex slaves.
"Should the Taliban get hold of any of the girls, they will not have them lying at home like dolls. They want to use them as sex slaves and torture them. Maybe until they die."
Former captain Popal added that although the team has safely left the country, "there is still so much more work to do.
“The last few days have been extremely stressful but today we have achieved an important victory," she said. "The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan. Women’s football is a family and we must make sure everyone is safe.”
Former assistant coach of the women's national team Haley Carter had previously criticised political leaders for what she called the country's "botched" evacuation plan.
“We have soldiers and marines on the ground that are doing everything they can, that are showing compassion and professionalism, but the reality is that from a senior military level the plan to evacuate and transition out is clearly botched," she told the Guardian.