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Afghanistan women’s national team soccer players leave country on evacuation flight

Shabnam Mabarz, seen from behind, watches as Khalida Popal heads the ball
Khalida Popal, the former Afghanistan national women’s team captain, heads the ball in 2016. She worked with authorities to get athletes and their families on evacuation lists and flights to safety.
(Jan M. Olsen / Associated Press)

Players from Afghanistan women’s national soccer team had an “important victory” on Tuesday when they were among a group of more than 75 people evacuated on a flight from Kabul.

Global soccer players’ union FIFPRO thanked the Australian government for making the evacuation of players, team officials and family members possible, with work continuing to help more leave Afghanistan.

“These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger and on behalf of their peers around the world we thank the international community for coming to their aid,” the union said in a statement.

The Afghan team was created in 2007 in a country where women playing a sport was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban.

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Taliban spokesman says there will be “consequences” if the Biden administration keeps U.S. troops in Afghanistan to continue evacuations beyond Aug. 31.

Players had been advised this month to delete social media posts and photographs of them with the team to help avoid reprisals since the U.S.-backed Afghanistan government fell.

“The last few days have been extremely stressful but today we have achieved an important victory,” former team captain Khalida Popal said.

Popal is among a team of FIFPRO lawyers and advisors who have worked with authorities in six countries, including Australia, the U.S. and United Kingdom, to get athletes and their families on evacuation lists and flights to safety.

“The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan,” Popal said.

FIFPRO general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said evacuations had been “an incredibly complex process.”

“Our hearts go out to all the others who remain stranded in the country against their will,” he said.

In Kabul’s bazaars, sales of the head-to-toe covering temporarily increased after Taliban takeover. But new rulers’ decrees aren’t entirely clear.

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