Sport

‘Football Is Like Food’: Afghan Female Soccer Players Find a Home in Italy

AVEZZANO, Italy — Two days after Taliban fighters seized Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest metropolis, the Italian journalist Stefano Liberti obtained a message through Fb: “Hello sir, we’re in hassle. Are you able to assist us?”

The message final month got here from Susan, 21, the previous captain of Bastan, a women’s soccer workforce that had as soon as been the topic of a documentary by Mr. Liberti and his colleague Mario Poeta.

“Soccer is like meals to me,” Susan would say later, and the concern that she may by no means play once more below Taliban rule, “made me really feel as if I used to be useless.” Like others interviewed on this article, solely her first identify is used to guard her identification.

13 days after she made contact with Mr. Liberti, Susan arrived in Italy together with two of her teammates, their coach and several other relations. They touched down at Rome’s essential airport after a flight made potential by the 2 journalists, a Florence-based NGO, a number of Italian lawmakers and officers within the Italian Protection and Overseas Ministries.

The Herat group, 16 individuals in all, transited by a tent camp run by the Italian Purple Cross in Avezzano, within the Apennine Mountains, the place greater than 1,400 Afghans evacuated to Italy have quarantined in current weeks.

Like so many Afghans, the gamers left behind the lives they’d constructed with the intention to make the journey. Susan halted her college research in English literature to depart the nation together with her dad and mom, two sisters and a brother.

Girls have been banned from sports activities throughout the first Taliban period. Even after the group was ousted from energy in 2001, enjoying sports activities continued to be a challenge for Afghan women, and for the boys who helped them.

In “Herat Football Club” the journalists’ 2017 documentary concerning the workforce, Najibullah, the coach, mentioned that he had been repeatedly threatened by the Taliban for teaching younger ladies.

The Taliban’s return to energy has raised fears not solely that restrictions on sports activities will likely be reimposed, but in addition that the feminine athletes who emerged previously 20 years will likely be topic to reprisals.

Khalida Popal, the previous captain of the nationwide ladies’s workforce who left Afghanistan in 2011 and now lives in Copenhagen, used social and mainstream media final month to advise ladies who’d performed sports activities in Afghanistan to close down their social media accounts, take away any on-line presence and even burn their uniforms.

“They’ve no person to go to, to hunt safety, to ask for assist if they’re in peril,” she mentioned in an interview with Reuters.

One other Herat participant, Fatema, 19, additionally left behind her college research, in public administration and coverage. She arrived in Italy with a brother, however her father fell in poor health whereas they tried to get by the crowds on the Kabul airport, so he and her mom remained behind.

“They mentioned to me, ‘You go, go in your future, for soccer, in your training,’” Fatema mentioned.

“Enjoying soccer makes me really feel highly effective and an instance for different women, to indicate that you are able to do something you need to do,” Fatema mentioned. She expressed hope that may be the case in Italy, too. “I need to make it my nation now,” she mentioned.

The oldest of the three gamers, Maryam, 23, had already earned a level in administration and had labored as a driving college teacher in Herat. She noticed herself as a job mannequin, inspiring younger ladies by instance “due to soccer, due to driving.”

“I used to be an lively member of society,” Maryam mentioned, a job she was sure she couldn’t have below the Taliban.

Maryam was the one workforce member to reach in Italy alone, although she mentioned she hoped that her household would be part of her. “It’s exhausting for me to smile,” she mentioned. “However I hope my future will likely be good, actually higher than below the Taliban.”

The gamers say that lots of their Herat teammates are nonetheless in Kabul, hoping to search out transit to Australia, the place some gamers on Afghanistan’s ladies’s nationwide workforce have been evacuated.

Final Friday, the three ladies and their households have been relocated to the Italian metropolis of Florence. In Italy, the nationwide soccer federation, some soccer golf equipment and the captain of the nationwide workforce, Sara Gama, have provided their help to the younger Afghan gamers.

“There’s been numerous solidarity,” Mr. Liberti, the documentary maker, mentioned.

And on a heat afternoon final week, Fatema and Maryam did one thing they’d by no means performed earlier than: They kicked a ball round with a few boys.

Requested the way it felt, Maryam grinned broadly and gave a thumbs up.

“It felt good,” added Fatema. “Folks didn’t have a look at us as if we had performed one thing fallacious.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/09/world/europe/afghanistan-women-soccer-italy.html | ‘Soccer Is Like Meals’: Afghan Feminine Soccer Gamers Discover a Dwelling in Italy

Huynh Nguyen

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