A group of 77 Afghan athletes and family members, including members of the Afghanistan women’s national football team, youth team and women’s football officials have left Kabul airport on a plane bound for Australia but there is still a long way to go to ensure the safety of many female athletes still at risk in the country.
In a furious 10-day period the players’ union Fifpro, a team of human rights lawyers and other NGOs worked around the clock with the former team coaches Kelly Lindsey and Haley Carter and the team founder and former captain Khalida Popal pursuing every avenue available to get them on evacuation lists, secure the players visas and get into the airport perimeter. They are continuing their efforts to ensure the safety of more athletes.
Players were forced to take their chances running past Taliban checkpoints, some suffering beatings and having to avoid gunfire to reach the relative safety of the airport.
The Australian team of the former Socceroo Craig Foster and the human rights lawyer and former Olympian Nikki Dryden – who were critical in ensuring the safety of the detained Bahrain footballer Hakeem al-Araibi in 2019 – and the director of Human Rights for All, Alison Battisson, were some of the many that swung into action and Australia quickly became the most viable escape route as Australian visas were secured for all athletes and the Australian government called for them to report to the airport.
“We are grateful to the Australian government for evacuating a large number of women footballers and athletes from Afghanistan,” said a Fifpro statement. “These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger and on behalf of their peers around the world we thank the international community for coming to their aid.
“We would like to pay tribute to the tireless, round-the-clock work of many people including Khalida Popal, Kelly Lindsey, Nikki Dryden, Alison Battison, Haley Carter and Craig Foster in helping them to secure safe passage out of Afghanistan.
“There remains much work to do to support and settle these young women and we urge the international community to make sure that they receive all the help they need. There are also many athletes still at risk in Afghanistan and every effort should be made to offer them support.”
Popal added: “The last few days have been extremely stressful but today we have achieved an important victory. The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan. But there is still much more work to do. Women’s football is a family and we must make sure everyone is safe.”