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Afghan football players enjoy a new life in England

A bus trip from Herat in western Afghanistan to the capital Kabul took a youth soccer team through a rocket-based explosion and firefighting. They were nearby when a bomb exploded at an airport. At the border he endured beatings and threats of stoning.

But thanks to their bravery, as well as the generosity of a diverse team of sponsors from around the world, including Leeds United Football Club, some of Afghanistan’s most talented athletes have fled the Taliban and are finding new beginnings in northern England.

Describing their flight, and what has happened since arriving at Stansted Airport in November, the group has moved together from laughter to tears – frustrated by their pain but still happy to find new hope.

Sosan: ‘We are very grateful for the opportunity to be here. But we are also very sorry for those who have left us’ © Jon Super / FT

“We are very happy to be here,” said Sosan, a midfielder for Herat, a former Afghan women’s league champions.

“We can learn again. We can play football freely. But we are also very sorry for those who have left us, “he said, declining to give his name to protect the families at home.

The experience of the players is proof how many are lost in Afghanistan in recent months. The US-led military alliance that returned when the Taliban returned to power, helped promote greater women’s rights over the next two decades. The escape of the young soccer players shows how their potential potential travels a long way.

They spoke at a hotel – where it could not be disclosed for security reasons – where UK officials detained them temporarily, along with their families who were at risk because of associations. They make up a group of 131 who fled together and their number grew by one this week, when the baby was born.

Three of the 28 players had just been selected to play for the women’s team while the Taliban were playing. take in August paid for all their dreams.

Khalida papa
Khalida Popal: ‘The foundation on which we built women’s football in Afghanistan represented our rights in male-dominated groups while women did not have the same rights as the people’ © Tariq Mikkel Khan / Scanpix / AFP / Getty Ima

Having used the ball as a platform to push the boundaries of what is possible girls and women in their culture, the group, which included players between the ages of 19 and 20, was at high risk. They were well known and their faces were on placards across Herat.

“Our mother and grandmother told us that if the Taliban came, we would not be able to go to school, we would not be able to complete our education. We need to stay home, “said Narguez, a defender.

“We thought that all the hard work we put in will never end and football and our lives will stand forever,” he added. “People say that if you are afraid that something is going to happen to you, it will happen.”

It is an encouragement from Khalida papa, a former captain and founder of the women’s national team, and now living in Denmark, the team fled Herat with close family and coaches, hoping to fly to Kabul.

One of Popal’s delegates was an Orthodox rabbi, Moshe Margaretten of Tzedek in New York. He then approached Kim Kardashian, a real US video presenter, who offered a flight to Britain.

Sabriah Nowroozi
Sabriah Nowroozi: ‘They call us unbelievers in an attempt to corrupt people. We can all be stoned or chased away ‘© Jon Super / FT

But the Taliban were already in Kabul. “There was a shooting everywhere and there was chaos. “The things we saw along the way were difficult to digest and many of the team wanted to return home,” said Sabriah Nowroozi.

Later, when the team boarded a bus to the Pakistani border, Taliban fighters discovered from their papers that they were football players.

“They say we are unbelievers and want to corrupt people. We can all be stoned or chased away, ”said Nowroozi. Hours later, as they huddled on the metal porch, some of the women were beaten and let out.

Always, behind the scenes and at a distance, a multi-faceted alliance facilitates their chase for the defense promoted by Popal, who greatly supported the plans.

“The foundation on which we developed women’s football in Afghanistan represented our rights in the male-dominated groups. without any rights as human beings, ”he said.

Andrea Radrizzani, an Italian businessman who is also the chairman and owner of Leeds United, was also in the middle. He used his chat to get the team to Pakistan and bring in its base, Play for Change, to help pay for their hotel bills.

He added that once he was in the UK, the team’s football would remain good. He studies twice a week with Leeds, and foundation and fundraising for them and looking for a place in UK clubs.

Afghan soccer players take part in their training in Doncaster, in the north of England
Afghan soccer players take part in training in Doncaster, northern England © Jon Super / FT

Radrizzani said he hoped some of them would play for his team. “They had never seen a grass ball before. They were so happy they cried.”

Under the UK The relocation of Afghanistan is a step in the right direction, more than 7,000 people have settled in the UK since the Taliban seized power. The long-term plan, to provide more than 20,000 people at risk of a new life in the UK, is underway soon.

A group from Herat has been granted visas for six months when they can register in the UK. Government agencies are helping them set up bank accounts, connect phones, and sign up for health care. The hotel staff helped out.

But not all were well received.

“There was a fight and people were saying why are you back?” Nowroozi said this, referring to the incident with locals who spoke to police yesterday. He understood, from his experience in Afghanistan, how people can be hostile to foreigners. “We need to be patient,” he added.

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