Afghan women soccer players evacuated to Qatar amid concerns over Taliban control

The Qatari government announced on Thursday that Afghan women soccer players had arrived in the country on a flight evacuating 357 people from Afghanistan. 

The plane was one of eight passenger flights to arrive from Kabul, according to Qatar’s assistant foreign minister Lolwah Alkhater. 

“Around 100 footballers & their families including female players are on board,” Alkhater tweeted.

Members of the Afghanistan women’s national team were among the players on the flight, according to the Associated Press. FIFA and Qatar coordinated the effort, which is the latest in an exodus of women athletes since the exit of a U.S. military presence and subsequent fall of the nation’s government at the hands of the Taliban.

Other members of the women’s national team left on a flight from Kabul to Australia in August with the aid of the Australian government. FIFPRO, a global soccer players union, applauded those efforts. 

“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,” the union said in a statement.

Members of the women’s youth soccer team evacuated for Pakistan in September. Others were granted asylum in Portugal. 

Afghan soccer player seen in Portugal on Sept. 30 after fleeing the Taliban. (Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images)

The national team was created in 2007 after the suppression of the Taliban, which forbade women from playing in sports and is doing so again with its renewed power. Khalida Popal, a former captain of the team, urged national team members in August to scrub their social media profiles out of fear of violence at the hands of the Taliban.

“Today I’m calling them and telling them, take down their names, remove their identities, take down their photos for their safety,” Popal said on Aug. 19. “Even I’m telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform.

“And that is painful for me, for someone as an activist who stood up and did everything possible to achieve and earn that identity as a women’s national team player. To earn that badge on the chest, to have the right to play and represent our country, how much we were proud.”


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