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Malala Yousafzai, Khalida Popal & Others Call on FIFA to Recognize Exiled Afghanistan Women’s Team

July 21, 2023 

Pakistani girls education activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, has joined with Girl Power Organisation founder Khalida Popal and over 100 parliamentarians from the UK, Australia, Portugal and Italy in an open letter to FIFA. The group is urging for the official recognition of the exiled Afghanistan women footballers and to ensure that they are able to compete in international tournaments. The letter, addressed to FIFA president Gianni Infantino, follows Yousafzai and Popal’s call for justice for the Afghan Women’s National Football team (AWT) made in January

Many of the national AWT players have resettled in Australia since the fall of Kabul in 2021 – where the the FIFA Women’s World Cup is currently underway alongside New Zealand. With the world’s eyes on women’s football during the tournament, there’s an unspoken issue for many that the exiled Afghan women have been left unsupported. Without formal recognition from the governing body, the team cannot represent their country, compete in professional matches or receive funding for their players and staff. Meanwhile, the Afghan men’s team has resumed playing in FIFA-sanctioned competitions.

The letter follows multiple failed attempts of getting a response. Yousafzai and Popal co-wrote the letter with Julie Elliott, the MP for Sunderland Central in the UK. It calls on the governing body to push back against restrictions placed on Afghan women’s participation in football and urges that its code of conduct clearly states its commitment to respecting human rights and promoting protection against discrimination.  

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Upon its takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban imposed strict rules on women that restricted their rights and included banning them from sports, studying in universities, working for NGOs and much more. “The statement made by the Taliban, asserting that women belong in the kitchen and view them as servants, is indeed disheartening. It is concerning that the governing bodies of sports and football have remained silent on this matter,” said Popal. 

Two days before the start of the Women's World Cup, the AWT and Melbourne Victory FC hosted the inaugural Hope Cup in Melbourne, Australia to raise awareness of the team’s current refugee status and to call on FIFA to allow them to represent their country from the diaspora. The AWT played Football Empowerment, a team representing Melbourne’s refugee communities. 

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John Didulica, Melbourne Victory Director of Football, said the ability to host the Afghan Women’s Team in Melbourne at this special moment in time was an honor. “Football in Australia has been built on our wonderful migrant communities. Football Empowerment and our Afghan Women’s Team are glowing examples of how football in Australia continues to bring people from diverse backgrounds together." The match was attended by Australian Government representatives and His Excellency Wahidullah Waissi, Afghan Ambassador to Australia.

“The game is a celebration of everything football should be. It is a game where we can all express ourselves on the pitch and be two teams that are equal, no matter our background... Playing football and representing your country as a national player is a fundamental human right that should not be denied to any individual,” said Popal who is a former national AWT captain and an asylum seeker. She founded Girl Power, a Sport Together Fund delivered by Beyond Sport Grantee Partner, which uses sport and education programming to empower and unify women and girls. 

“Given the sacrifices and risks endured by the women of Afghanistan to normalize sports, particularly football, their efforts mustn’t be ignored. It is crucial to continue advocating for the right of Afghan women to participate in sports, ensuring that their voices are heard and their achievements are recognized. All those sacrifices shouldn’t be for nothing,” she continued.  

Sources: Guardian, Melbourne Victory FC


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