Afghanistan’s girl footballers escape to Pakistan

Afghanistan’s national junior girls' football team members along with their families have crossed over to Pakistan after Islamabad issued emergency humanitarian visas to evacuate them from their country following the Taliban takeover

Sep 15, 2021
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Afghanistan’s girl footballers escape to Pakistan

Afghanistan’s national junior girls' football team members along with their families have crossed over to Pakistan after Islamabad issued emergency humanitarian visas to evacuate them from their country following the Taliban takeover.

The footballers were facing threats from the Taliban because of their involvement in sports. They had been originally due to travel to Qatar, where Afghan refugees have been housed at a facility for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but were left stranded after a bomb blast at the Kabul airport on Aug 26.

While most members of the Afghanistan national women’s football team had flown out in the last week of August after an arrangement with the Australian government, the youth team was unable to get flights as they did not have passports and other documentation. They had since been in hiding to evade the Taliban.

They finally crossed the Torkham border - connecting Nangarhar province of Afghanistan with Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province  – on Tuesday,

The move to bring the 32 footballers — a total of 115 people, including their families — to Pakistan was initiated by the British NGO Football for Peace in cooperation with Islamabad and the Pakistan Football Federation of Ashfaq Hussain Shah, which isn’t recognized by FIFA.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino had visited the Afghan refugees during his trip to Doha last week, but the global football body has been criticized for its inaction in aiding the female footballers who were still in Afghanistan.

Britain’s Independent newspaper had reported last week that Prime Minister Imran Khan was more likely to allow the players’ entry into Pakistan if FIFA requested the government.

“We launched these efforts a few weeks ago and we’re extremely thankful to the government and PFF president Ashfaq Hussain Shah and vice president Aamir Dogar for facilitating us,” Pakistan ambassador of Football for Peace Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a former member of Ashfaq’s PFF, told Dawn on Tuesday night.

The footballers will proceed from Peshawar in Khyber to Punjab province’s Lahore where they will be housed at the PFF headquarters, the takeover of which by the court-elected PFF of Ashfaq from the FIFA-appointed PFF Normalization Committee had forced FIFA to suspend Pakistan.

“We are supporters of humanity,” Ashfaq said. “When we learned about this, we immediately acted and tried our best to help them reach Pakistan as quickly as possible.”

(SAM)