In search of safe haven, thirty-two women football players from Afghanistan took the help of neighbouring country Pakistan. The women footballers, who were facing threats from the hardline Islamist group Taliban, have reached Pakistan along with their families after the government issued emergency humanitarian visas to evacuate them, a media report confirmed on Wednesday.Also Read - 2 Injured in IED Blast in Afghanistan's Kabul
Pakistan’s Information & Broadcasting Minister – Fawad Chaudhry welcomed the players of the Afghan women’s football team. However, Chaudhry gave no details, and it was not immediately clear how many players had entered the country and what their plans were. Also Read - Taliban Say Afghan Boys' Schools To Reopen, No Mention Of Girls; UNICEF Expresses Concern
“We welcome Afghanistan women football team, they arrived at Torkham Border from Afghanistan,” said in a Tweet, adding they were received by a representative of the Pakistan Football Federation. Also Read - Land of Afghanistan Should Not Be Used To Spread Terrorism In Any Country: PM Modi at SCO-CSTO Outreach Summit
The departure is part of a broader exodus of Afghan intellectuals and public figures, especially women since the Taliban took over the country a month ago.
The footballers belonging to the national junior girls’ team had been originally due to travel to Qatar, where Afghan refugees have been housed at a facility for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but were left stranded after a bomb blast at the Kabul airport that killed 13 US service members and at least 170 Afghans on August 26.
These women were facing threats from the Taliban due to their involvement in the sport, Dawn newspaper reported.
The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August. These women football players had since been in hiding to evade the Taliban. When the Islamist group last ruled Afghanistan two decades ago, women were barred from sports and that is likely to continue in this regime as well.
The move to bring the 32 footballers to Pakistan was initiated by British-based NGO Football for Peace in cooperation with the government and the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF), which is not recognised by FIFA.
Several former and current women football players fled the country following the Taliban takeover, while a former captain of the team urged players still in Afghanistan to burn their sports gear and delete their social media accounts to avoid reprisals.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino had visited the Afghan refugees during his trip to Doha last week, but the global football body has been criticised for its inaction in aiding the female footballers who were still in Afghanistan.
The footballers will proceed from Peshawar to Lahore where they will be housed at the PFF headquarters.
(With PTI Inputs)