By Sarah Van Vooren, Atoot Co-Founder, Equal Playing Field Ambassador and part of our Spirit of Football Family:
One of the most powerful stories on the global football stage the past year and a half surrounds the extraordinary escape of many Afghan female footballers from their country once the Taliban took over control in August 2021. We had the opportunity to spend time with a big group of these women who were resettled in Melbourne. This was a short, but poignant meet up, which emotionally hit me deeply. My mate, Khalida Popal, put her life on hold to help evacuate her Afghan sisters, knowing full well the dangers they faced (she had to flee Afghanistan herself years ago) with the Taliban back in power.
These Afghan women are young; very young. Imagine being 17 years old and having to flee your home in a moment’s notice with only the clothes on your back and a small backpack, leaving behind all you know and love. That is exactly what they went through. After a harrowing escape, these young ladies landed in Australia with no family members, no English skills and no idea what their – or their families back home – futures hold. The trauma they endured is unimaginable. Their PTSD is real.
Fast forward one and a half years and they are rebuilding their lives in Melbourne. They have learned English, built their own communities, continued their studies – and most importantly – continued playing the beautiful game, together, in the fourth tiered professional league with the Melbourne Victory Football Club.
We spoke a bit about The Ball and its mission within this journey. They admired the shiny ball, how many people had signed it along the way and eagerly headed/signed it. Upon our thanks to these young women, I found myself expressing my utmost respect and admiration for their resilience and spirit to keep moving onwards. I have heard about the insurmountable mountains they have climbed and spent many days watching my mate Khalida do everything in her power to evacuate these young women to safety, plus provide them with the resources, emotional support and global community to restart their lives in Australia. Being so close to their story, they have inspired me more than they know.
These young women are actively pushing for recognition and visibility for their Afghan sisters back home, living in a dire situation, all while still processing their own trauma’s. They are true heroes, who will never end their fight of equality for their Afghan sisters back home, even if they are thousands of miles away. It’s a never ending battle, which continues daily. Furthermore they are campaigning for FIFA to recognize them as the representatives of the Afghanistan National Football Team, even if they are living in exile. While the odds are stacked high against them, their hunger for change never seizes.
More about the Afghan Women’s Team at Melbourne Victory here.
Photos by https://www.hamishjohnappleby.com/