It breaks my heart: Afghanistan’s female footballers make tearful calls for help amid Taliban takeover

In frantic telephone calls and voice messages, Khalida Popal can hear the misery and tearful pleas for help. The soccer gamers within the Afghanistan girls’s nationwide staff that Popal helped set up now concern for their lives after the Taliban swept to regain management of the nation after 20 years.

When they name, all Popal can do is advise them to flee their properties, escape from neighbors who know them as pioneering gamers, and attempt to erase their historical past — notably activism towards the Taliban who at the moment are re-establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

“I have been encouraging to take down social media channels, take down photos, escape and hide themselves,” Popal informed The Associated Press in a phone interview from Denmark.

“That breaks my heart because of all these years we have worked to raise the visibility of women and now I’m telling my women in Afghanistan to shut up and disappear. Their lives are in danger.”

The 34-year-old Popal can barely comprehend the pace of the collapse of the Afghan authorities and the sense of being deserted by Western nations who helped to topple the Taliban in 2001.

Started utilizing soccer as a software to empower girls: Popal

Having fled together with her household after the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, Popal returned to Afghanistan 20 years in the past as a young person who had been dwelling in a refugee camp in Pakistan. With the safety of the worldwide neighborhood, Popal felt optimistic that ladies’s rights can be promoted.

“My generation had the hope of building the country, developing the situation for the next generation of women and men in the country,” she stated. “So I began with different younger girls utilizing soccer as a software to empower girls and women.”

By 2007, there were enough players for Popal to be part of Afghanistan’s first women’s national team.

“We felt so proud of wearing the jersey,” Popal said.

“It was the most beautiful, best feeling ever.” Popal encouraged her teammates to use their platforms to speak out as escalating attacks were seeing the Taliban retake territory.

“I received so many death threats and challenges because I was quoted on the national TV,” she stated. “I used to be calling Taliban our enemy.”

Popal stopped enjoying in 2011 to give attention to coordinating the staff as a director on the Afghanistan Football Association. But the threats continued and he or she was ultimately pressured to flee Afghanistan to hunt asylum in Denmark in 2016.

“My life was in great danger,” she stated.

But she by no means deserted the female footballers, serving to to show bodily and sexual abuse, dying threats and rape that implicated the Afghanistan federation management.

The corruption within the sport was reflective of the shaky foundations of a rustic that has deteriorated quickly after the withdrawal of troops from the US-led mission.

“The women of Afghanistan believed in their promise but they left because there’s no more national interest. Why did you promise?” Popal requested. “This is what my girls crying and sending voice messages are saying. Why not say you would leave like this? At least we could protect ourselves.”

An exasperated Popal sighs.

“We would not have created enemies,” Popal stated. “They are crying. They are just crying they are sad. They are just like desperate. They have so many questions. What is happening to them isn’t fair.

“They are hiding away. Most of them left their houses to go to relatives and hide because their neighbors know they are players. They are sitting, they are afraid. The Taliban is all over. They are going around creating fear.”

Popal is a world away however linked by the messages pinging into her telephone of the Taliban.

“They keep taking video and photos from the window showing they are just outside the home and that is very sad,” she stated.

It’s laborious to even think about Afghanistan, ranked 152nd by FIFA out of 167 girls’s groups, enjoying once more.

“It’s been very painful to witness when yesterday the government surrendered,” Popal stated.

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