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A "large number" of players for the Afghanistan women's national soccer team were among the group of more than 75 people who were evacuated from the country on a flight from Kabul, the international soccer players union FIFPRO said Tuesday.
FIFPRO began working with governments last week in an attempt to evacuate players whose safety was at risk after the Taliban regained control on Aug. 15. The union thanked the Australian government for its help in evacuating the group.
"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."
Players had been advised to burn jerseys
Former players publicly advised members of the team this week to delete all evidence they had been on the team. Former captain Khalida Popal even went so far as telling players to burn their jerseys and flee their homes.
“The last few days have been extremely stressful but today we have achieved an important victory," Popal said in a statement via FIFPRO on Tuesday. "The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan. But there is still much more work to do. Women's football is a family and we must make sure everyone is safe."
Popal was on the team of FIFPRO lawyers and advisors working with authorities in six countries, including the Australia, United States and United Kingdom, to get the athletes and families on evacuation lists. The U.S. had its largest day of evacuation flights on Monday with 28 military flights ferrying 10,400 people out of Taliban-held Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.
Afghans continue to be evacuated
It followed a week of crushing crowds at the airport as Afghans attempted to get out of the country. One youth male football player died in the attempt to get out on a military airplane wing.
The women's national team was founded in 2007, after the United States drove the Taliban from power. The regime was strict and oppressive toward women, who were largely kept in the home and disallowed from engaging in pop culture such as TV or radio.
FIFPRO said there "remains much work to do to support and settle" the women who made it out of Afghanistan and still more athletes at risk in the country.
"We are relieved that this group of footballers and athletes have been able to leave Afghanistan today," FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said. "It has been an incredibly complex process for everyone involved to secure their evacuation. Our hearts go out to all the others who remain stranded in the country against their will.”
The deadline set by the U.S. and president Joe Biden to evacuate people is Aug. 31. The UK, France and Germany have asked for an extension to that date, but it seems unlikely to move. At a press briefing on Tuesday morning, Taliban leaders said Afghans should not go to the airport or attempt to leave the country. It advised women to stay home for their safety.
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