Afghan women footballers revel in freedom to beat British MPs

[LONDON] Young Afghan women footballers on Tuesday (Mar 29) enjoyed a one-sided drubbing over a select team of British female MPs - but the score was secondary to their freedom to play at all.

Back home, in recent days, the Taliban have reverted to misogynistic policies. Girls have once again been thrown out of secondary schools, and women told they cannot board planes without a male relative.

For members of the Afghanistan women's youth development football team - resettled in the UK last November after an evacuation flight funded by US celebrity Kim Kardashian - there remains deep concern for family and friends left behind.

But for 40 minutes, at the drizzly South London ground of non-league club Dulwich Hamlet, they focused on what they do best in a match against the UK Women's Parliamentary Football Club.

"I'm very proud of them," Khalida Popal, an activist and former captain of the Afghan women's team, told AFP after coaching her charges for the game.

"They're practising their human rights, and their freedom to play football, and to be together - that's the most beautiful thing," she said.

"They're very strong human beings, knowing what they have been through, the trauma, the violence, everything that they have witnessed." Former sports minister Tracey Crouch, co-captain for the MPs, shrugged with good humour at the final result.

Nobody bothered keeping score after the Afghan women's lead reached double digits.

"They're all really good, we're all really bad," Crouch said.

"But that's not the point. The point is that we have played this amazing game," she added.

"We're all really privileged, quite humbled, to play these girls, they've just been through so much."

Painful

The evacuation flight to Britain brought 35 female footballers and their families, a total of 130 people, in the weeks after the Taliban recaptured Kabul as US-led Western forces quit Afghanistan.

After several months off the pitch as they started new lives in Britain, the Afghan women were just happy to be playing again, their captain Sabreyah said.

But she turned tearful reflecting on those now chafing under Taliban rule.

"My friends are kept home every day," Sabreyah, who is in her early 20s and gave only one name, said through an interpreter.

"I'm really upset that the girls of my country can't even get education. It is really painful for me.

"I faced a lot of problems to play football, but now the problems have only increased." Popal, who organised the exfiltration flight, said the young women were determined to make a success of their new lives in Britain.

"But they're also missing home. They're still in shock of what happened in Afghanistan and why it happened," she said. AFP

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