OPINION

Australia needs to take in more Afghan refugees, as fear intensifies for female athletes

Former Afghanistan soccer captain, Khalida Popal, fears for the safety of female soccer players and is telling them to burn their kits and remove anything linking them to sport. Picture: Getty
Former Afghanistan soccer captain, Khalida Popal, fears for the safety of female soccer players and is telling them to burn their kits and remove anything linking them to sport. Picture: Getty

Female athletes are joining the long queue of those trying to flee Afghanistan, as advocates fear for their safety and tell them to remove all traces of their participation.

One way Australia can help is by increasing its refugee intake, which was cut by 5000 places a year, to 13,750 visas, in 2020.

After Australia, the US and other NATO troops withdrew all support from the country, the capital of Kabul fell to the Taliban this month and fear has followed, with women's rights at the forefront.

The Taliban has said women's rights will be respected "within the limits of Islam", but stories on the ground are telling us otherwise. With reports of female students being sent home from school and orders, in some provinces, to provide a list of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 40 for "marriage" with Taliban fighters.

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Rightfully fear has become the common denominator for the Afghan people, as they remember back to the Taliban's last rule from 1996-2001.

One young male soccer player was so desperate to flee, players' organisation FIFPRO reported Afghan national team player, Zaki Anwari, died after he fell to his death from a US plane.

However, the fear for female athletes seems greater. Former Afghan women's soccer captain Khalida Popal told players to remove all traces of their sporting history.

"Today I'm calling them and telling them, take down their names, remove their identities, take down their photos for their safety. I'm telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform," she told Reuters.

"And that is painful for me, for someone as an activist who stood up and did everything possible to achieve and earn that identity as a women's national team player."

During their last rule, women were not allowed to work or go to school, forced to wear burqas and required a male relative chaperone to leave their house.

FIFPRO, and it's reported FIFA as well, has requested the emergency evacuation of players, in particular female players.

Human rights advocates are calling for other sports to begin lobbying to evacuate female athletes, too, to save them from what they fear awaits.

The first captain of the Afghan women's team, Shamila Kohestani, said she was fielding calls for help from athletes who were "scared to death" of the Taliban's regime.

"Women athletes are frightened, shocked and in disbelief," she tweeted.

"The day Taliban entered Kabul, was the day I said goodbye to women playing sports. The future of women athletes has just gotten dark and scary once again."

Female athletes need to get out and Australia can do more to help than set aside 3000 visas for Afghans. It can follow the UK, US and Canada, who have committed a combined 70,000 visas.

This story We need to take in more Afghan refugees, as fear intensifies for female athletes first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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