Rescue from the Taliban
Dramatic escape of the Afghan women footballers: “The trophy is to get to the airport”
The players of the Afghan women’s national soccer team managed to escape from Kabul. A former trainer and a former teammate who coordinated the rescue operation played a major role in this.
When the Taliban took power in Kabul, panic was widespread in the Afghan capital. Thousands tried desperately to leave the country to get away from radical Islamists. Many women who had previously participated in social life and enjoyed many freedoms that the Taliban want to take away from them found themselves in particularly great danger. Including the players of the Afghan women’s national soccer team.
They too were looking for the fastest possible way out of Afghanistan. According to Sharia law, which the Taliban want to enforce, it is unthinkable that women play football – and would probably be punished accordingly by the new rulers. The soccer players are now safe. It was mainly thanks to a group of six women from the United States that they were rescued.
Former trainer campaigns for the rescue of female soccer players from Kabul
Haley Carter was the woman who put a team together in the United States to fly the Afghan players out. She herself knows many of the athletes personally because she has looked after the team as an assistant coach for a number of years. In this role, it was not only about improving the team in terms of sport, but also giving the women self-confidence for their role in society. Carter is now the coach of the Antigua and Barbuda national team. But when she saw on the news how dramatically the situation in Afghanistan was worsening, she knew she had to help her former players.
“These players will always be my players,” the 37-year-old told CNN. “We have developed such a strong trust between us. Some of these women are like family to me.” Fearing the Taliban, the female soccer players hid and burned their jerseys in order not to be recognized. Khalida Popal, the former national team captain who fled to Denmark in 2016, sent desperate calls for help to the international community on Twitter. Popal and Carter went on a joint mission to save Afghan women footballers from the Taliban.
Although the US military tried to fly out as many people as possible, the project turned out to be logistically difficult – quite apart from the fact that far too many people wanted to leave the country. In addition, many of them were unable to get to the airport in Kabul. Popal, Carter and their colleagues – two lawyers, the former trainer of the Afghan women’s team Kelly Lindsey and the former Canadian professional swimmer Nikki Dryden – had to make phone calls, write e-mails and activate all contacts around the clock. A diverse group, but as Carter says: “Never underestimate the power of a group of women with smartphones.”
Players get asylum in Australia
At the same time Carter was in contact with the players, trying to calm them down and give them instructions to escape – just like before the games: “You have to fight and you have to be smart. Prepare yourself well and take care of yourself . You will find yourself in situations in which you will not feel comfortable. ” Popal also sent motivating messages home, she told ESPN: “This is a football game, the trophy is to get to the airport. You have to come to the US soldiers, you have to get out of Afghanistan.”
Finally, the relieving news: with the help of the Australian government and the global professional footballers union Fifpro, 75 members of the women’s team were flown out. “I still cried such tears of relief as I did at that moment,” recalls Haley Carter on CNN. The players were flown to Australia and received asylum there. However, many of them had to leave their families and everything they had built up over the years in Afghanistan.