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

·2 min read

Afghan women soccer players arrived in Qatar on a flight evacuating 357 people from Afghanistan, the Qatari government announced Thursday. 

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, 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

Players of Afghanistan national women football team attend to a training session at Odivelas, outskirts of Lisbon on September 30, 2021. - Forced to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power, players of the women's national football team and their families were welcomed to Portugal where they were able to train again today in a suburban stadium of Lisbon. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)
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, who 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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