Captain of the Afghanistan women’s team has called on FIFA to help ‘save’ her team-mates from the Taliban after the country fell to the Islamist group.
The future of Afghan women remains uncertain after the Taliban took control of capital city Kabul earlier this week, with women’s rights severely suppressed when the group last ruled the country between 1996 and 2001.
Previously, Afghan women were not allowed to work, study, or be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone. Individuals who violated the sexist laws were imprisoned, publicly flogged, and even executed.
And with the lives of many of her football team-mates under threat, national team captain Shabnam Mobarez, 25, who is currently residing in the United States, has asked the world football governing body to intervene in the situation in her home country.
Recalling a conversation with one of her peers on Twitter, Mobarez posted her interpretation of the conversation, which started with her saying: ‘“are you okay?”
‘My teammate in Afghanistan: “No I am not – I know they will come for me soon, can you help me?”
‘@FIFAcom how should I answer the question? We must act to save my teammates. They are my sisters?’
Under Taliban rule starting in 1996, girls were banned from attending school, while women could only appear in public wearing full body coverings and accompanied by male escorts.
Women who did not faithfully observe the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law were publicly flogged or executed. The international community eventually worked to open schools for girls and allowed women to return to work following the Taliban’s ousting from power in 2001 after US intervention.
This allowed the Afghanistan national women’s team to be formed in 2007, with the squad playing their first-ever competitive match three years later and the country picked up its first win against Qatar in 2012.
Upon the Taliban taking over the country this week, former national team captain Khalida Popal urged all the women’s players to delete their social media accounts and even burn their kits to protect their identities and their lives.
Mobarez, meanwhile, revealed that football was used as a way to give women power in Afghanistan, but now she feels helpless in trying to reassure her teammates that everything will be alright.
Speaking of her team-mates, she told Tribuna Expresso this week: ‘They fought to empower women in Afghanistan, we tried to use football as a tool to give women a new voice and make them fight for their rights, but now it seems that football is something that can endanger them, and potentially kill them, which is heartbreaking.
‘I talk to them regularly on WhatsApp and do my best not to let them down. When I was captain of the national team, I used to tell the players that everything was going to be fine, that we were going to overcome everything together.
‘Now, when I talk to them, they cry on the phone and fear for their lives. I can’t tell them it’s going to be okay, because I’m not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, or a week from now.’
Mobarez also revealed that the Afghan Football Federation has given up on the team, hence why she is appealing to FIFA for help.
‘They are hidden in the home of family or friends, without revealing their identity. Even the Afghan Football Federation members and staff simply disappeared, they were supposed to protect them and there is no one there.
‘It looks like the people who had the money left and now we have all these helpless women left to fend for themselves.
‘I would love to be able to help them more, but the situation is so tense that, right now, if they leave the house, they will be killed.
‘For now, the best thing to do is wait for the situation to calm down. There is a chance that the Taliban will knock on their door and tomorrow they will no longer be with us.’
Earlier this week, male Afghan national youth team footballer Zaki Anwari, 19, died when he became trapped in the landing gear of a US evacuation flight in a desperate attempt to flee the Taliban.
The promising teenage player rushed to the airport hours after Kabul fell to the Taliban, joining thousands of others in pouring onto the runway and then chasing after the USAF jet despite warning shots ringing out.
Mr Anwari’s death was confirmed by the General Directorate of Physical Education & Sports of Afghanistan, Arian News reported on Thursday.
The United States Air Force later said that the pilots decided to go ahead with takeoff because the jet ‘was surrounded’ and there was a ‘rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft.’
The beloved teen had attended the prestigious French-speaking Esteqlal High School, in Kabul, and had been called up to the national youth team as a 16-year-old. His ‘unspeakable loss’ was mourned by his friends and peers on social media on Thursday.
Afghanistan’s assistant manager Ali Askar Lali said: ‘May his soul rest in peace and his memory be remembered.’
Britain has promised to evacuate some 7,000 UK citizens and Afghan staff from the country, in addition to 5,000 refugees, but armed forces minister James Heappey has said that ‘that sad truth is, we don’t have it in our gift to stay there until absolutely everyone is out’.
Britain evacuated 2,163 people from Kabul between Sunday night and Friday morning, and is aiming to take out another 1,000 per day as long as flights can keep operating.
In total, the UK has now taken some 3,800 people out of Afghanistan in recent weeks, including more than 600 UK citizens and thousands of Afghans covered by the resettlement scheme.
To keep its most-modest promises, the UK must evacuate some 3,200 people – but up to 8,200 if the prime minister’s pledge to take refugees is to be met.