Evacuated Afghan women football team included ‘false footballers’

An investigation by the BBC’s Newsnight programme has found that 35 Afghan women and their family members – 130 people in total – who were evacuated to the United Kingdom (UK) in November 2021 included 13 women with false credentials as members of the Afghan women’s football team.

The UK’s Home Office has granted visas to these women after they were referred to as at-risk female football players by the Rokit Foundation and a well-known Afghan football player, Khalida Popalzai.

In its investigation, the BBC has talked to former female players, coaches, and officials of the Afghan women’s team..

Many of the evacuees have been introduced as members of Herat Youth Team. The team’s former coach, Najibullah Nowroozi, however, said that he wondered if even some of these evacuees had ever visited Herat’s football ground. “I have seen people in the list who have not even worn a football strip in Herat,” he is quoted.

A known footballer, who wished to be remained anonymous and still stuck in Afghanistan, has expressed anger over the evacuation with false documents. “We are left behind in Afghanistan with no future. It just makes me feel very neglected and very sad because we are the real players and not some of those that got evacuated,” she said.

Sabriah Nawrouzi, a former coach of the Herat Youth Team who stayed with other evacuees in the same hotel in Pakistan, said she met some women for the first time, who claimed to be part of her team.

Siu Anne Gill, who ran the Rokit Foundation charity, blamed the UK’s Home Office for failing to check the credentials of the evacuees on the flight, adding that it was Khalida Popal who verified the final list for evacuation flights

“Khalida Popal personally had been including more names and more names and more names. We asked Khalida, ‘Did you check that these are footballers?” She said “Yes, they’re definitely footballers, Gill quoted Khalida as saying at the time of finalizing the list.

Khalida Popal has rejected the allegations against her, saying that she didn’t knowingly help non-footballers to be evacuated as part of the scheme.

The UK’s Home Office has said that it will investigate if evidence is found that the information was incorrect.

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