Young Afghan soccer players arrive in Pakistan and will seek asylum

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Players from Afghanistan’s youth women’s soccer teams have arrived in Pakistan and will seek political asylum in third countries amid concerns about the situation of female athletes under the new Taliban government in Kabul.

Some 81 people, including players from various youth teams, their coaches and family members arrived in Pakistan through the Torkham border crossing, Umar Zia, a senior official with the Pakistan Football Federation, said on Wednesday. Another 34 will arrive Thursday, he said.

It was unclear when they crossed the border. Officials gave them red flower garlands as they got off a bus at the Federation office in Lahore on Wednesday.

They will stay there under strict security measures before applying for asylum in third countries, Zia told Reuters.

“They will go to another country after 30 days, as various international organizations are working to install them in any other country, including the UK, the US and Australia,” he said.

The international organization Football for Peace helped organize his departure from Afghanistan and his arrival in Pakistan.

Their flight is part of a larger exodus of Afghan intellectuals and public figures, especially women, since the Taliban took over the country a month ago.

When the Islamist group last ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education. Women were banned from playing sports and that is likely to continue in this government as well.

A representative of the Taliban told Australian broadcaster SBS on September 8 that he did not believe that women would be allowed to play cricket because “it was not necessary” and would be against Islam.

“Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or practice the kinds of sports in which they are exposed,” the SBS quoted the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, as saying.

Several former and current soccer players fled the country after the Taliban takeover, while a former team captain urged the players still in Afghanistan to burn their sports equipment and delete their social media accounts to avoid retaliation.

The sport’s governing body, FIFA, said last month it was working to evacuate those remaining in the country.


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