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Female Afghan athletes successfully evacuated

James Thorogood
August 24, 2021

Members of the women's national football team were among a group of female athletes successfully evacuated from Afghanistan. The news was confirmed by FIFPRO, the association for professional footballers, on Monday.

Afghanistan women's national football team
Members of the Afghanistan women's national football team have been evacuated from the countryImage: x99/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

It wasn’t long after the Taliban’s forceful takeover that concern for Afghanistan’s female athletes began to grow. On Monday, the first step toward securing their safety was taken.

FIFPRO, the worldwide association for professional footballers, which has been heavily involved in efforts to get female Afghan athletes out of the country, confirmed a group evacuation to Australia without giving numbers.

"We are grateful to the Australian government for evacuating a large number of women footballers and athletes from Afghanistan," FIFPRO said in 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."

"Hope for a better life"

Khalida Popal, the former Afghan women's team captain turned team director, now living in Denmark, hailed the evacuation as an important victory.

"The last few days have been extremely stressful, but today we have achieved an important victory,'' said Popal, who was among a team of FIFPRO lawyers and advisers working with authorities in six countries, including Australia, the US and United Kingdom, to get athletes and their families on to evacuation lists.

"The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis, and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan," she said. 

DW has remained in contact with the member of the women's national football team, who talked in anonymity from her basement soon after the Taliban takeover. She confirmed that she and her dependents were among those who had been taken out of the country.

"I don't want to lose my life for this unacceptable government," she told DW. "I want to live and I want to come back to do something for my nation, for my people, for my women."

Now she will have the chance. "This country needs its youngsters and especially they need the woman and the women who are educated or want to do something for their country," she said.

Support from sport's community

The evacuation came as a result of efforts made by prominent sports people, including Popal. Nikki Dryden, who swam for Canada at two Olympic Games, worked with an Australian lawyer to complete the visa applications for the athletes, who included two Afghan Paralympians.

According to reports from Australian broadcaster ABC, the refugee advocates also secured the help of Australia's former soccer captain, Craig Foster, who lobbied Australian government officials.

FIFPRO thanked Foster and Dryden, among others, for their efforts and urged the international community to ensure that the players receive the help they need in their new lives.

"There are also many athletes still at risk in Afghanistan and every effort should be made to offer them support," it added.

jt (AP, reuters)

James Thorogood Sports reporter and editor, host of Project FußballJMThorogood