UK parliament calls on FIFA to support Afghanistan’s exiled women’s football team

Photo: Reuters

More than 100 British parliamentarians and peers from other governments have written to FIFA’s chief Gianni Infantino, urging him to do more to support exiled female footballers and ensure women from Afghanistan are able to compete on the international stage.

The letter backs a call made by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and Afghanistan women’s national team founder Khalida Popal in January, the Guardian reported. Yousafzai and Popal have co-written the letter with Julie Elliott, the MP for Sunderland Central, and it has been signed by 76 members of the UK parliament and parliamentarians from Australia, Portugal and Italy. It calls on the governing body to do more to push back against restrictions placed on women’s participation in sport in Afghanistan.

Elliott said: “The right to play football, and the right to compete, should be protected. FIFA should uphold its commitments to equality, and I believe that FIFA should be doing much more to support these women to regain their place on the world stage.

“The support that this letter has got from colleagues across the House, and across the world, shows the widespread support for the women of Afghanistan, both those in exile, and those still living in the country, and their right to live how they choose.”

During the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan in 2021 the senior women’s national team was evacuated to Australia, the country co-hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup with New Zealand. They continue to function as a team, supported by Melbourne Victory, and compete in the seventh tier as Melbourne Victory FC AWT.

Several national youth-team players escaped to Portugal and Italy, and about 30 development-team players, including some with call-ups to the national youth teams and some from the league-winning Herat provincial team, reached the UK with the support of Leeds United.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, women have been banned from playing sport and the national team has not been formally recognised. As such they have been unable to compete in international competitions.

FIFA has said that “the selection of players and teams representing a member association is considered an internal affair”.