The Afghanistan women’s football team is training in Melbourne as they look to compete in the Football Victoria Senior Women’s competition in 2022.
For the first time since fleeing their home last year, the athletes will take to the field and will play under the Melbourne Victory banner.
Melbourne Victory have provided the players with brand new training gear and boots, while the players decided to wear their Afghanistan national team shirts when they train.
The A-League club will supply the team with full logistical, administrative and coaching support from their football operations department.
“We’re carrying the baton from a lot of great work that’s gone over the past few months,” said Melbourne Victory’s director of football, John Didulica.
“It’s what they really want to do to make their mark globally, to assert their independence through participation in football. That hasn’t been easy because they’ve got family back in Afghanistan, and they’re fearful for the fate of those family members.”
The Afghanistan women’s football team will spend the coming weeks and months training in anticipation of entering one of the local competitions overseen by Football Victoria.
The team’s football quality is being assessed with Football Victoria likely to enter the squad in a state league division two or three competition.
The football community, including former Afghanistan captain Khalida Popal and ex-Socceroo and refugee advocate Craig Foster, helped rescue the footballers from Kabul last August, while the Australian Government gave humanitarian protection to dozens of athletes.
“Many great people and organisations played a part in their courageous escape but as they take the field again, we are reminded that their international careers have been obliterated by the Taliban,” Foster said.
“Football cannot allow this to happen. Gender equality is a fundamental principle of international football and this team embodies this right. They are a powerful symbol of women’s rights in Afghanistan and all around the world and that is something the game must protect.”
Afghanistan captain and goalkeeper, Fatema said the team is excited to restart their careers and that playing football again is the next step on their road to recovery in Australia.
“All the girls are excited about playing together again,” Fatema said.
“We wanted to stay together as a team to show that the Taliban can take away our country, but not our right to play the sport we love and will ask for everyone’s support so that we can continue our international careers.”
Another player in the team Moslih, said it was a relief to get back into training.
“Actually, after six months, it’s an amazing feeling and I can’t explain it,” she said.
“When you’ve lost everything, you can achieve again. Now I can say that I’m lucky.”
“My teammate is a sign of my country and when I play with my teammates it looks like that I’m playing in my country.”
The Afghanistan women’s football team was formed in 2007 when women playing any form of sport was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban.
The team played their first official international match in 2010 against Nepal and claimed their first victory with a 2-0 win over Qatar in 2012.
The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ensuing escape of the players led to the team withdrawing from qualifying fixtures for the recently held Women’s Asian Cup in India.