Members of Afghanistan’s women’s football team living in exile in Melbourne received a surprise visit this week from Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who is helping to drive a campaign to get FIFA to recognize the team at an international level.
The team members were thrilled to meet Yousafzai, who traveled to Australia with her husband to watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Speaking to Australia’s public broadcaster SBS, Yousafzai said:
“It is time for FIFA to decide that they are not standing on the Taliban’s side. It is time for FIFA to recognise that they are standing with the women of Afghanistan.”
Team Director and founder Khalida Popal says the players’ wish to represent their country must be respected.
“People from around the world are standing with us. Amazing, fantastic people like Malala and Melbourne Victory (football club), and other people are standing with us. We are hopeful. We are happy that we are not alone in this.”
FIFA says it doesn’t have the right to officially recognise a team unless it is first recognised by the concerned Member Association. However, Yousafzai says the rules should be changed.
“In the end what matters is not the rules and regulations. What matters is that the players are able to play the game. So we have heard enough of the excuses of the rules and regulations.”
Team Captain Fatima Yousufi says for players, who fled Afghanistan when the Taliban took power two-years ago, football is a vital remedy.
“We have been through a lot and we need time to heal. But the thing is football is our medicine. Football is the medicine for our wounds, wounds of war, wounds of the situation of what happened in Afghanistan.”
Exactly two years ago, the women’s team fled the country and were offered a home in Melbourne, Australia.
Since the Taliban takeover, girls and women have been banned from school and work and largely confined to their homes, only allowed to venture out with a male guardian.
In a statement late last month, FIFA stated it “does not have the right to officially recognize any team unless it is first recognized by the concerned Member Association.”
“However, ensuring access to football for both female and male players without discrimination and in safety is a key priority for FIFA,” the statement said. “FIFA is therefore continuing to monitor the situation very closely and remains in close contact with the Afghan Football Federation and other stakeholders with the aim to promote access to football in Afghanistan.”
In turn, Behram Siddiqui, secretary-general of the Afghanistan Football Federation, told CNN last month in an interview that FIFA had contacted the body about the Afghan women’s team and the federation had told them it was against its rules for the women to play through a club.
“Neither can we support nor can we oppose the team if they play. Also, if they come through Afghanistan right now, we can’t support them as here the government has some restrictions,” he said.
Gender equality is one of the eight social causes being promoted by the 2023 Women’s World Cup – which wraps up Sunday, August 20.
But Craig Foster, human rights activist and former Socceroo, who played an instrumental role in the team’s evacuation from Afghanistan said recently that FIFA’s own statutes require more than a social campaign.
“They’ve absconded their entire responsibility and put it onto the domestic organization … under FIFA gender equality statutes, there can be no discrimination against women in any member federation in the world. And the greatest discrimination is the prohibition against even playing the game.”
Afghanistan’s women’s team began playing again in Melbourne last year, after local club Melbourne Victory offered to take them in and assigned them a top coach.