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  • Mary Connor

Supporting Vulnerable Female Soccer Players in Afghanistan

Update (August 24, 2021): Since first posting this statement, more than 70 athletes and their families have been evacuated from Afghanistan to Australia, thanks to the incredible efforts of Khalida Popal, Haley Carter, Kelly Lindsey, Allison Battisson, Nikki Dryden, Kat Craig, Craig Foster, and many other individuals as well as FIFPRO, streetfootballworld, FIFA, Human Rights Watch, and others. Here is the announcement from FIFPRO.

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Soccer Without Borders is watching the situation in Afghanistan closely, and would like to express our support for those displaced for fear of persecution, who are now seeking evacuation and safety. As an organization serving refugee youth from over 70 countries of origin, including Afghanistan, we are prepared to welcome new participants as soon as they arrive to any of our program locations, supporting refugee youth to find a sense of belonging and create new home. We recognize that there are many vulnerable individuals seeking to flee Afghanistan, and much discourse around the future of women’s rights in the country. If you are seeking to support Afghan women and girls at this juncture, we recommend the resources suggested by our friends at Futures Without Violence in this post.

As the situation in Afghanistan unfolds, the AP reported that "The football players in the Afghanistan women’s national fear for their lives after the Taliban swept to regain control of the country after two decades." In 2016, Soccer Without Borders formed a partnership with the players and coaches of the Afghanistan Women’s National Soccer Team. Designed as a fiscal sponsorship, this partnership provided the team with greater autonomy over their activities, supplementing the minimal financial support they received from their Federation with sufficient funds to hold training camps, scout and recruit players, and attend regional competitions. This relationship was able to unlock over $100,000 in new investment into the team, supporting the coaches, managers, and players to execute on their vision of building women’s football in Afghanistan.

The risk was always top of mind as these women risked their reputations, family support, careers, and safety to play a game they love. Each training session was not only a step forward for the team, it was a step in the direction of gender equality despite generations of resistance. Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch explains, “Female athletes have been encouraged by the international community and sports federations to use their platforms of being top national athletes in Afghanistan to promote women’s rights – but now they are more exposed and could be endangered for this profile."

Three years later, the sense of hopefulness that these steps forward would lead to sweeping change within the country was shattered. The news broke that the Afghanistan Football Federation, including the President of the Federation himself, were leveraging their positions of power to sexually abuse members of the team. Courageously, several of the accusers documented and escalated their accusations through the global players union, FIFPRO, and quietly left Afghanistan to officially testify to the facts of the case. Their brave efforts resulted in the lifetime ban of the Afghanistan Federation President, and new policy proposals across the world to protect against abuse in football. The members of the Afghanistan Women’s National Team have demonstrated heroic levels of courage at great risk to themselves, their families, and one another.

Today, we stand in support of the global coalition of organizations working to secure the safety and evacuation of players and families most at-risk due to these past actions. Khalida Popal, the team's former captain, has called upon governing bodies to support and protect these players urgently, expressing “For so long I have been fighting to bring visibility to women of Afghanistan and to encourage women of Afghanistan to use their voices. Now I’m telling them to silence that voice, to not talk, to not meet people, to take everything down, to remove their identities. That is very painful."

In recent days, those sport bodies have responded, with FIFA and FIFPRO calling for the emergency evacuation of players. The situation is evolving by the hour, as members of the football community around the world are working to support the women of the team who are most at risk.

At this time, direct donations to Soccer Without Borders are not the most effective way to get financial support to these players. However, while all efforts at this moment are focused on the immediate safety and evacuation of vulnerable members of the team, we expect there to be urgent financial and material needs in the near future. We will share this information when we have it available and appreciate everyone who has reached out to offer support.

In solidarity,

Mary Connor

Executive Director

Soccer Without Borders


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