Republic’s envoys call on FIFA to recognize Afghanistan’s women’s team in exile

Photo: Reuters

Heads of diplomatic missions of the former government of Afghanistan have collectively appealed to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura to recognize and support Afghanistan’s national women’s football team, which has been forced into exile.

In a heartfelt letter this week to Samoura, the Coordination Council of the heads of diplomatic and consular mission of the former republic government, stated that these women are living in exile “merely for exercising their right and passion to play football.”

The diplomats said the issue resonates with the principles of unity, equality, and the transformative power of sport.

They pointed out that in the two years since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, sweeping restrictions have been brought against women’s fundamental rights and freedoms, including a regressive ban on their participation in sporting activities.

“Among those most affected by these draconian measures are the dedicated players of the women’s national football team of Afghanistan – a group of talented athletes who have been forced into exile merely for exercising their right and passion to play football.”

In addition to fleeing their country, these women have been dealt a double blow in the past year as FIFA has refused to recognize them as the national team.

The diplomats, who were appointed by the former republic government and who have continued to operate independently since August 2021, meanwhile raised the issue during the FIFA Women’s World Cup – a tournament that has been off-limits to the team in exile.

Successive requests and appeals to FIFA to formally grant the women’s national football team of Afghanistan the opportunity to take part in the international event failed to garner a positive response.

“The adversity faced by Afghan female football players under the oppressive Taliban regime cannot be overstated. Threats of arrest, persecution and even loss of life are what members of the women’s national football team of Afghanistan are faced with, resulting in them having to leave their country and seek safety and refuge abroad. Their story symbolizes the aspirations of countless Afghan women who, despite the tragedy that has befallen them, continue to dream of a
life beyond the confines of what has been imposed on them,” the letter read.

The group pointed out that the team’s shared dedication and love for the game became a beacon of hope, forged bonds that
transcended borders, language and culture and that football helped reinforce their confidence to strive and achieve success.

The Taliban has in the past two years stripped women of many of their most basic rights, leaving them excluded from public life and barred from getting an education.

In light of this, the Coordination Council said it “hopes and expects” FIFA and the international community to provide the necessary support to the team so that they can “exercise their fundamental right to compete in international sporting events, such as the Women’s World Cup.”

The group noted that by officially recognizing the women’s national football team of Afghanistan in exile, “FIFA will also
demonstrate its support for gender equality, the empowerment of girls in sports, as well as the resilience of Afghan girls who have chosen to stay resilient amidst many obstacles and challenges that confront them.”

Following the collapse of the republic government on August 15, 2021, Afghanistan’s foreign diplomatic missions have been in a transitional phase and as no country has officially recognized the Taliban regime, most missions have continued to operate independently.

While some countries have handed over control of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions in their countries to the Taliban, the regime has only been allowed to appoint representatives at the chargé d’affaires level. However, only a handful of countries have allowed this, while the bulk of the missions are still under the control of diplomats appointed by the former government.