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Afghan girls’ soccer team lands in U.K., with help from Kim Kardashian West

Soccer players vying for the ball
Players vie for the ball in the Kabul Women’s Premier League championship final in Afghanistan in 2014.
(Rahmat Gul / Associated Press)

Members of Afghanistan’s women’s youth development soccer team arrived in the U.K. early Thursday after being flown from Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, a British soccer club and Kim Kardashian West.

A plane chartered by the reality star and carrying more than 30 teenage players and their families, about 130 people in all, landed at Stansted Airport near London. The Afghans will spend 10 days in coronavirus quarantine before starting new lives in Britain.

English Premier League team Leeds United has offered to support the players.

Britain and other countries evacuated thousands of Afghans in a frantic airlift as their country’s capital, Kabul, fell to Taliban militants in August. Many more people have since left overland for neighboring countries in hopes of traveling on to the West.

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Women playing sports was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban, which teaches the subjugation of women, and hundreds of female athletes have left Afghanistan since the group returned to power and began curbing women’s education and freedoms.

Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan’s national women’s team, said she felt “so happy and so relieved” that the girls and women were out of danger.

Two months after the Taliban takeover of their country, Afghan women and girls inhabit a world transformed.

“Many of those families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were burned down,” Popal, who has spearheaded evacuation efforts for female athletes, told the Associated Press. “Some of their family members were killed or taken by Taliban. So the danger and the stress was very high, and that’s why it was very important to move fast to get them outside Afghanistan.”

Australia evacuated the members of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team, and the girls’ team was resettled in Portugal.

Members of the development team, many of whom come from poor families in the country’s provinces, managed to reach Pakistan and eventually to secure British visas. But they were left in limbo for weeks with no flight out of Pakistan as the time limit on their Pakistani visas ticked down.

The team got help from the Tzedek Assn., a nonprofit U.S. group that previously helped the last known member of Kabul’s Jewish community leave Afghanistan.

The group’s founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, has worked with reality TV star Kardashian West on criminal justice reform in the U.S. He reached out to her to help pay for a chartered plane to Britain.

“Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wants to fund the entire flight,” Margaretten said.

Kardashian West’s spokeswoman confirmed that the star and her brand SKIMs had made the donation.


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