‘Football Is Like Food’: Afghan Feminine Soccer Gamers Locate a Home in Italy

AVEZZANO, Italy — Two days right after Taliban fighters seized Herat, Afghanistan’s 3rd-most significant town, the Italian journalist Stefano Liberti acquired a concept by using Facebook: “Hi sir, we are in hassle. Can you assist us?”

The concept final month came from Susan, 21, the former captain of Bastan, a women’s soccer team that experienced once been the matter of a documentary by Mr. Liberti and his colleague Mario Poeta.

“Football is like meals to me,” Susan would say later on, and the anxiety that she may well never engage in once again beneath Taliban rule, “made me truly feel as though I was dead.” Like others interviewed in this write-up, only her very first name is used to protect her identity.

Thirteen times soon after she designed get hold of with Mr. Liberti, Susan arrived in Italy along with two of her teammates, their mentor and many relatives associates. They touched down at Rome’s most important airport soon after a flight made achievable by the two journalists, a Florence-based mostly NGO, quite a few Italian lawmakers and officers in the Italian Protection and Foreign Ministries.

The Herat group, 16 individuals in all, transited by way of a tent camp run by the Italian Purple Cross in Avezzano, in the Apennine Mountains, where by much more than 1,400 Afghans evacuated to Italy have quarantined in current weeks.

Like so numerous Afghans, the gamers left powering the lives they had crafted in purchase to make the excursion. Susan halted her university scientific tests in English literature to go away the nation with her mom and dad, two sisters and a brother.

Females had been banned from sports activities all through the first Taliban era. Even following the team was ousted from electricity in 2001, playing athletics continued to be a challenge for Afghan gals, and for the adult men who aided them.

In “Herat Soccer Club” the journalists’ 2017 documentary about the crew, Najibullah, the mentor, reported that he experienced been continuously threatened by the Taliban for coaching younger girls.

The Taliban’s return to electricity has lifted fears not only that constraints on sports activities will be reimposed, but also that the female athletes who emerged in the earlier 20 several years will be matter to reprisals.

Khalida Popal, the previous captain of the nationwide women’s team who still left Afghanistan in 2011 and now life in Copenhagen, used social and mainstream media previous month to recommend gals who’d performed sporting activities in Afghanistan to shut down their social media accounts, clear away any on-line presence and even burn up their uniforms.

“They have nobody to go to, to request defense, to question for enable if they are in risk,” she explained in an job interview with Reuters.

Yet another Herat player, Fatema, 19, also remaining at the rear of her college scientific tests, in community administration and policy. She arrived in Italy with a brother, but her father fell unwell though they attempted to get via the crowds at the Kabul airport, so he and her mother remained powering.

“They claimed to me, ‘You go, go for your future, for soccer, for your instruction,’” Fatema stated.

“Playing football makes me come to feel impressive and an case in point for other girls, to exhibit that you can do just about anything you want to do,” Fatema mentioned. She expressed hope that would be the situation in Italy, much too. “I want to make it my state now,” she explained.

The oldest of the a few players, Maryam, 23, had previously gained a degree in administration and experienced labored as a driving school instructor in Herat. She noticed herself as a part model, inspiring young gals by illustration “because of football, simply because of driving.”

“I was an lively member of modern society,” Maryam reported, a position she was certain she could not have below the Taliban.

Maryam was the only staff member to get there in Italy alone, however she explained she was hoping that her family would sign up for her. “It’s difficult for me to smile,” she mentioned. “But I hope my future will be very good, definitely greater than less than the Taliban.”

The gamers say that quite a few of their Herat teammates are however in Kabul, hoping to come across transit to Australia, wherever some players on Afghanistan’s women’s countrywide team have been evacuated.

Final Friday, the 3 girls and their families have been relocated to the Italian metropolis of Florence. In Italy, the countrywide soccer federation, some soccer clubs and the captain of the national workforce, Sara Gama, have made available their support to the young Afghan players.

“There’s been a whole lot of solidarity,” Mr. Liberti, the documentary maker, said.

And on a warm afternoon last 7 days, Fatema and Maryam did a thing they experienced by no means finished before: They kicked a ball about with a few of boys.

Asked how it felt, Maryam grinned broadly and gave a thumbs up.

“It felt fantastic,” added Fatema. “People did not appear at us as even though we experienced carried out something mistaken.”

Theresa D. Begay

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