Female players who have represented Afghanistan’s junior national football team have managed to flee the country and cross the border to neighboring Pakistan, in a bid to escape the now-ruling Taliban.
The girls were reportedly in hiding for the last month as fears spread of women’s rights being trampled on by the new regime.
Players from the senior women’s side managed to fly out of Kabul to Australia in August, but their youth counterparts were left stranded while lacking official documents such as passports.
After the Football for Peace charity lobbied Pakistan on their behalf, 32 players and their relatives managed to obtain visas.
The group boasts 81 people in total, and an official from the Pakistani Football Federation said that they would be housed at the organization’s Lahore HQ, with a further 34 people arriving tomorrow.
For 30 days, they will remain under tight security and then apply for asylum in third countries other than Pakistan, the official confirmed.
As recently revealed by The Independent, the players wrote to Pakistan PM Imran Khan to request urgent permission to enter his homeland as they felt they were at risk of “grave threats”.
When Kabul fell after US troops pulled out following a 20-year presence in the region, the women’s national team’s former captain Khalida Popal urged her former teammates to delete photos of themselves plying their trade and to burn their kits as a way of covering up their playing past.
Just last week, Ahmadulla Wasiq, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, poured doubt on the future of women playing sport in the captured country by saying their participation wasn’t necessary or appropriate when discussing cricket.
“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this,” said Wasiq.
“It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”
During the Taliban’s first rule from 1996-2001, women were barred from being able to participate in sports and its women’s football team was only established in 2007.