Barred by the Taliban, Afghanistan women’s football team struggles in exile

The Afghanistan women’s national football team has been barred by the Taliban who refuses to recognize them nearly two years since their takeover.

The players and their coaches have been living as refugees in Australia after managing to flee from the country as the Taliban swept across Kabul in mid-August 2021 amid a chaotic US-led withdrawal.

These athletes feared the Taliban’s retaliation for their lives and their association with sports, something the group promptly banned women and girls from.

The group has also imposed a string of draconian rules and measures banning women and girls’ education and employment and outlawing them from gyms, parks, beauty salons, restaurants, and other social premises.

Now in exile, the Afghanistan women’s football team players remain symbols of courage and resistance for millions of women and girls despite an uncertain future.

In Melbourne, they are going to play their first friendly match since they left against the ‘football empowerment team’ which represents Melbourne’s refugee and migrant communities, according to the BBC.

But the women’s team could not take part in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, taking place from 20 July to 20 August in Australia and New Zealand because they remain unrecognized by the Taliban authorities.

Afghanistan has not featured in the FIFA women’s team rankings since early 2022.

“All those women sacrificed a lot to play for the national team and to be able to represent Afghanistan. Unfortunately, they lost their title and lost home,” Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghanistan women’s football team, lamented to the BBC.

The Afghanistan women’s team is not officially recognized by FIFA either, despite its support in the evacuation of over 150 athletes from Afghanistan.

“The selection of players and teams representing a member association is considered an internal affair of the member association. Therefore, Fifa does not have the right to officially recognize any team unless it is first recognized by the concerned member association.” FIFA told in a statement.

FIFA added that the football governing body will continue to “monitor the situation very closely and remains in close contact with the Afghanistan Football Federation and other stakeholders with the aim to promote access to football in Afghanistan.”

“I’m very sad. I was expecting a lot more for football’s governing body,” Popal asserted. “[Fifa needs] to stand with these women. We want leadership – we need a strong voice to stand with us. Don’t keep silent.”

Nevertheless, the women’s team says they are determined to keep their team together, to “never give up” and continue to fight for official representation and recognition.