‘Soccer Is Like Meals’: Afghan Feminine Soccer Gamers Discover a House in Italy

AVEZZANO, Italy — Two days after Taliban fighters seized Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest metropolis, the Italian journalist Stefano Liberti acquired a message by way of Fb: “Hello sir, we’re in hassle. Are you able to assist us?”

The message final month got here from Susan, 21, the previous captain of Bastan, a ladies’s soccer group that had as soon as been the topic of a documentary by Mr. Liberti and his colleague Mario Poeta.

“Soccer is like meals to me,” Susan would say later, and the worry that she may by no means play once more below Taliban rule, “made me really feel as if I used to be lifeless.” Like others interviewed on this article, solely her first identify is used to guard her identification.

13 days after she made contact with Mr. Liberti, Susan arrived in Italy together with two of her teammates, their coach and several other relations. They touched down at Rome’s fundamental airport after a flight made attainable by the 2 journalists, a Florence-based NGO, a number of Italian lawmakers and officers within the Italian Protection and International Ministries.

The Herat group, 16 individuals in all, transited by a tent camp run by the Italian Pink Cross in Avezzano, within the Apennine Mountains, the place greater than 1,400 Afghans evacuated to Italy have quarantined in current weeks.

Like so many Afghans, the gamers left behind the lives they’d constructed with the intention to make the journey. Susan halted her college research in English literature to go away the nation along with her dad and mom, two sisters and a brother.

Ladies have been banned from sports activities in the course of the first Taliban period. Even after the group was ousted from energy in 2001, enjoying sports activities continued to be a challenge for Afghan ladies, and for the lads who helped them.

In “Herat Football Club” the journalists’ 2017 documentary in regards to the group, Najibullah, the coach, mentioned that he had been repeatedly threatened by the Taliban for teaching younger ladies.

The Taliban’s return to energy has raised fears not solely that restrictions on sports activities shall be reimposed, but additionally that the feminine athletes who emerged up to now 20 years shall be topic to reprisals.

Khalida Popal, the previous captain of the nationwide ladies’s group who left Afghanistan in 2011 and now lives in Copenhagen, used social and mainstream media final month to advise ladies who’d performed sports activities in Afghanistan to close down their social media accounts, take away any on-line presence and even burn their uniforms.

“They’ve no person to go to, to hunt safety, to ask for assist if they’re at risk,” she mentioned in an interview with Reuters.

One other Herat participant, Fatema, 19, additionally left behind her college research, in public administration and coverage. She arrived in Italy with a brother, however her father fell ailing whereas they tried to get by the crowds on the Kabul airport, so he and her mom remained behind.

“They mentioned to me, ‘You go, go on your future, for soccer, on your training,’” Fatema mentioned.

“Taking part in soccer makes me really feel highly effective and an instance for different women, to point out that you are able to do something you need to do,” Fatema mentioned. She expressed hope that might be the case in Italy, too. “I need to make it my nation now,” she mentioned.

The oldest of the three gamers, Maryam, 23, had already earned a level in administration and had labored as a driving college teacher in Herat. She noticed herself as a task mannequin, inspiring younger ladies by instance “due to soccer, due to driving.”

“I used to be an energetic member of society,” Maryam mentioned, a task she was sure she couldn’t have below the Taliban.

Maryam was the one group member to reach in Italy alone, although she mentioned she hoped that her household would be a part of her. “It’s laborious for me to smile,” she mentioned. “However I hope my future shall be good, actually higher than below the Taliban.”

The gamers say that lots of their Herat teammates are nonetheless in Kabul, hoping to seek out transit to Australia, the place some gamers on Afghanistan’s ladies’s nationwide group have been evacuated.

Final Friday, the three ladies and their households have been relocated to the Italian metropolis of Florence. In Italy, the nationwide soccer federation, some soccer golf equipment and the captain of the nationwide group, Sara Gama, have supplied their help to the younger Afghan gamers.

“There’s been a number of solidarity,” Mr. Liberti, the documentary maker, mentioned.

And on a heat afternoon final week, Fatema and Maryam did one thing they’d by no means completed earlier than: They kicked a ball round with a few boys.

Requested the way it felt, Maryam grinned broadly and gave a thumbs up.

“It felt good,” added Fatema. “Individuals didn’t have a look at us as if we had completed one thing unsuitable.”

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