Members of the Afghan women’s youth development football team arrived in Britain early Thursday. They flew from Pakistan with the help of Kim Kardashian West.
The plane chartered by the reality star carried more than 30 teenage players and their families. They were about 130 people in all. They landed at Stansted Airport near London. The Afghans will spend 10 days in coronavirus quarantine before starting new lives in Britain.
Following the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, female footballers and their families made their way across the Torkham border and reached Pakistan earlier in September. The government had issued emergency humanitarian visas to evacuate them.
Since their return to power on August 15, the Taliban have said that women can play football. However, only under strict conditions — namely barred from playing in public. The squad had been in Pakistan on temporary 30-day visas since escaping from Afghanistan but risked being sent back when their asylum period expired if no other country was prepared to take them in.
A representative for Kardashian, best known as a star of reality television, told Britain’s PA news agency the flight was funded by her and her SKIMS brand.
Siu-Anne Gill, chief executive officer of the ROKiT Foundation which helped organize the footballers’ escape from Afghanistan, said she was “extremely humbled by the courage shown by these girls”.
“That’s inspired us to ensure that their efforts in getting over the border don’t go to waste,” she added. Australia evacuated the members of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team, and the youth girls’ team was resettled in Portugal.
‘So happy and relieved’
Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan’s national women’s team who has spearheaded evacuation efforts for female athletes, said she felt “so happy and so relieved” that the girls and women were out of danger.
English Premier League club Leeds United offers to support
Leeds United is among the organizations offering to help the footballers who have arrived in England.
Andrea Radrizzani, the owner of the Premier League football club, said in a statement, “We are delighted the Afghan Women and Girls Development Football Team and their families, led by their brave, former captain Khalida Popal has landed safely in the UK, following extensive efforts by a number of partners”.
“Through Play for Change Charitable Trust and Leeds United, we stand ready to support the girls and their families in building an inclusive and prosperous future. We can’t wait to see them playing football again.”
There has been panic in Afghanistan ever since the Taliban took control of the country. They banned women from sporting activity or even going to a match when they last ruled Afghanistan.
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