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What the return of the Taliban could mean for women’s sport in Afghanistan

Ten years ago the Taliban fired eleven bullets into the upper body, neck and face of the President of the Paralympic Committee in Afghanistan. He was believed dead.

This week the Taliban returned and shattered the dreams of two Paralympic athletes scheduled to fly to Tokyo.

Zakia Khudadadi would make history as the first woman in her country to compete in the Paralympics in the debut sport of para-taekwondo, while her teammate Hossein Rasouli would compete in athletics.

How fast the story can turn.

“Don’t lose hope yet”

Afghan Paralympist Zakia Khudadadi missed leaving Kabul and making it to Tokyo before the Taliban took over her country. Now she’s asking for help.

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At the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, Afghan 100-meter runner Kimia Yousofi broke her own national record – set at the Rio Olympics five years ago – and was also a common flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

Yousofi had a lot to celebrate. Instead, she feels sorry.

“I don’t know if it was the last time that I carried your honorable flag to the tournament … I don’t know if I can still tie your proud name headband to my forehead and enter the racecourse,” she wrote on Facebook.

“My dear people, the strong girls of my country, may God protect you.”

For many, God seems to be their only hope, especially for women – the group most at risk despite the Taliban’s assurances this week that they will respect women’s rights.

Although Yousofi represents Afghanistan, her family lives in Mashhad, Iran, after they fled their homeland in the 1990s when the Taliban first took control of their country.

As a refugee, she was unable to compete against the Iranian children she grew up with, but was identified during a talent search by the Afghan government ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

    An Afghan female athlete stands on the Olympic track in Tokyo after she competed in the women's 100m. Kimia Yousofi ran the women’s 100m for Afghanistan in the Tokyo Olympics, but she and her family live in Iran after escaping their homeland in the 1990s.

Getty Images: Abbie Parr


Back then, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) encouraged all national Olympic committees to include at least one woman on their team.

The IOC has brought in both sponsorship and positive headlines for the creation and support of the Olympic refugee team, but this week when athletes and officials in Afghanistan were most in need of their support, emails with questions about the activities of the Olympic body went largely unanswered .

Days later, a statement attributable to only one speaker was released:

“The IOC is monitoring the situation and is in contact with the sports community in Afghanistan. At the same time, we have forwarded relevant information to a number of responsible governments for this phase. “

Read more about the Taliban’s advance in Afghanistan:

For obvious security reasons, perhaps the most vulnerable people in Afghanistan would have welcomed IOC President Thomas Bach, who proudly claims to oversee an organization that has achieved gender equality at the Games, his name into one Declaration in which he said he would do everything he could to get guarantees from the executive government that the athletes are protected and that their human right to exercise will be preserved in the future.

That seems like the least he could do.

The youngest member of the IOC, Samira Asghari, happens to be the former captain of the Afghan national basketball team.

If the IOC was secretly working the baking channels, one wonders why its member from Afghanistan resorted to tweeting the US and asking for help.


But it’s not just Olympians and Paralympists.

Fears about footballers after promising progress

The history of the Afghan football team, known as the National Women’s Team (NWT), is well documented over several years.

Her courage was not only to be the first to claim the right to exercise and represent her country, but in recent years also against the male officials who sexually abused her.

Khalida Popal was a driving force in women’s football in Afghanistan and was the first female captain of the NWT from 2007 to 2011 when she was forced to flee her country due to persistent and serious death threats.

An Afghan woman speaks on the stage of an international football inclusion conference in Switzerland.Khalida Popal, former captain of the Afghan women’s national soccer team, says she is struggling to deal with what is happening in the country.

Getty Images / FIFA: Valeriano Di Domenico


Hearing Popal speak this week was like listening to the unraveling of a human mind.

“Like any other woman and man from Afghanistan, I have many deep feelings about all the work we have done, all the dedication and sacrifice that the people of Afghanistan, especially the women in Afghanistan, have endured.” she said to The Ticket.

“And all these innocent soldiers who came to our country… wasted their lives, it was just wasted. It was just like all the struggles they fought for peace, and that’s painful.

“I had difficulty falling asleep. I had difficulty breathing at all. I feel pain in my chest when I think of women and girls who had so many dreams and hopes.”

Now living in Denmark, Popal founded Girl Power, an organization that brings together minority and high-risk women through sport, but her heart stays with Afghan women soccer players.

“Our very first Afghan women’s national team – our creation, the team’s purpose – was to be the voice of the voiceless women of Afghanistan, the women who still live under the dark regime of the Taliban,” she said.

“I feel pain when I think about the time when the international community arrived in our country, what I remember were all those big words, auspicious words about defending women’s rights, human rights and being with the women of Afghanistan.

“All these conferences that have taken place, all these government speeches … saying that women in Afghanistan are not alone and we support women not to live under the dark regime of the Taliban as we have for eight years first time did Taliban came.

“And suddenly they are all left alone without protection… Why has the world abandoned the women of Afghanistan?

“That hurts the most.”

“The men have sold the land, the men are out of the country”

Popal said the courage of these women exposed them after the Taliban returned to power and “today or tomorrow their enemies will come and take them”.

“I think as women of Afghanistan we were played, we were kind of a puppet in a game we didn’t know,” she said.

“Our compatriots and politicians came together and said this is the new Afghanistan, the women of Afghanistan can play football, the women of Afghanistan can sing, and this is the new Afghanistan.

“Now it’s like the show is over and everyone is going home and … the women of Afghanistan are just being left on the streets and on the ground and nobody cares.”

She said the men who promised security and progress to women in Afghanistan lied to her.

“It’s a man-made deal; the men sold the land, the men left the country. What about the women? What will happen to the women? That’s the question that needs to be asked,” she said .

The Taliban’s mistreatment of women and girls has already started

Woman wearing a blue burqa is holding a small child who is drinking from a bottle.

Encouraged by the success in Afghanistan, the Taliban are now calling on religious leaders to hand them lists of girls over the age of 15 who are to “marry” with Taliban fighters.

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Social media called for no further pictures of female players to be posted in order not to facilitate identification for the Taliban if they decide that female athletes should be wanted and punished.

Behind the scenes, player groups and human rights organizations in Europe, England, the USA and Australia are working together to pull all the strings to get the remaining NWT footballers out of Afghanistan.

The biggest sport in the world with its established players’ association FIFPRO knows what to do under these circumstances; You have already been on this path with the NWT.

The campaign to rescue the wrongly imprisoned Bahraini refugee Hakeem al-Araibi was coordinated by former Socceroos captain Craig Foster with the help of the Australian players’ association PFA.

They are active again, both privately and publicly, as they know that as co-host of the next FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 it would be a mockery of the public relations work of the government and the umbrella organization to let players down in emergency situations campaigns that the Organize the event on human and women’s rights.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to search, up and down arrows to volume.RegardDuration: 2 minutes 9 seconds2m 9sPlay video.  Duration: 2 minutes 9 secondsChaos grips Kabul Airport as evacuees try to flee.

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