Players from Afghanistan’s female youth soccer teams have arrived in Pakistan and will seek political asylum in third countries amid concern over the status of female athletes under the new Taliban government in Kabul.
Some 81 people, including female players of several youth teams, their coaches and family members reached Pakistan through the Torkham border crossing, Umar Zia, a senior Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) official, said yesterday.
The group of junior players and their coaches and families had tried to escape the country last month but a devastating bomb attack at Kabul airport left them stranded, someone close to the team told AFP.
“I received a request for their rescue from another England-based NGO, so I wrote to Prime Minister Imran Khan who issued clearance for them to land in Pakistan,” said Sardar Naveed Haider, an ambassador for global development NGO Football for Peace, based in London.
The girls, who played for the under-14, under-16 and under-18 teams, crossed the land border dressed in burqas, Haider said, before they later changed into headscarves.
Prime Minister Khan is a former international cricketing star and sports hero among Pakistanis.
The PFF’s Zia said that a further 34 will arrive today.
It was not clear when they actually crossed the border.
Officials gave them garlands of red flowers as they stepped off a bus at the PFF office in Lahore yesterday.
They will stay there under tight security before applying for asylum in third countries, Zia told Reuters.
“They will go to some other country after 30 days as several international organisations are working towards settling them in any other country, including the UK, US and Australia,” he said.
The Football for Peace international organisation helped to arrange their departure from Afghanistan and arrival in Pakistan.
Their flight is part of a broader exodus of Afghan intellectuals and public figures, especially women, since the Taliban took over the country a month ago.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.
Women were barred from sports and that is likely to continue in this government as well.
A Taliban representative told Australian broadcaster SBS on September 8 that he did not think women would be allowed to play cricket because it was “not necessary” and would be against Islam.
“Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed,” SBS quoted the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, as saying.
However, on Tuesday, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, Afghanistan’s new director general for sports, said top-level Taliban leaders were still deciding.
Several former and current women football players fled the country following the Taliban takeover, while a former captain of the team urged players still in Afghanistan to burn their sports gear and delete their social media accounts to avoid reprisals.
The sport’s governing body FIFA said last month it was working to evacuate those remaining in the country.
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