Seeing the desperation of men and women to leave Afghanistan, Khalida Popal, 30, cried. When asked, she struggles to find a word to define what she is feeling. Anger, sadness, depression, emptiness.
“Sleeping has been very difficult,” she confides, constantly requested by journalists in recent days.
After the double bombing at Kabul airport last Thursday (26), claimed by ISIS, she posted on her social networks a video recorded a few minutes after the attack. He was concerned that women football players from the Afghan national team were nearby. They were trying to find a way out of the country.
US authorities have reported more than 180 deaths. Khalida wrote not to know if there were any former teammates among the victims. She is campaigning for the football authorities to help them leave the country.
The announcement of the departure of American troops from Afghanistan, about two weeks ago, sowed panic among the population. The Taliban, a fundamentalist and nationalist Islamist movement, have settled in the main cities and have taken control of the capital Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani has fled. The only way to try to leave was the city’s airport, which was overrun with thousands of people.
Khalida was responsible for organizing the country’s first women’s football team. She was the team captain. An initiative that gave him leadership and notoriety in national sport. But it also brought him risks and problems.
One of the recurring memories is of all the times she was called a whore. The offense was used by men and even women’s groups across the country when they saw girls playing sports in Afghanistan.
Due to the manner in which he started out as a child, at the beginning in a hidden way, he received dozens of death threats. He had to leave his native country in 2011 and now lives in Denmark. She created the NGO Girl Power, which aims to give women the tools to grow socially through sport.
Khalida tries to keep in touch with her Afghan friends who play soccer. Her message to them has always been to raise her voice, to be heard and to face a system put in place so that women are invisible. Now that has changed. The former captain begged them to keep quiet for fear of Taliban retaliation.
“My goal has always been not only to play football, but to empower other Afghan women to play or participate in sports and grow. The wish was that they would have more opportunities in life. It has always been more than the game itself, ”he said before the blasts near the airport.
Khalida started kicking the ball in her garden, taught by her mother. In 2004, when the Taliban were driven out of the country’s main cities by the US-led coalition, the girl started playing school football with her friends.
At 16, he decided he needed to take the next step and formed the team that would become the first national team.
It has always been a risky business. The captain remembers men and women throwing stones or trash at female players who dared to challenge the established standard that girls should not play sports. The ground where they trained has been destroyed several times. It was common to have to start from scratch.
“It was never an act of rebellion. We didn’t want to challenge anyone. It was a fight for equality. The Taliban had been defeated, but part of society still lived on this philosophy they espoused, that women are inferior beings. It was a fight worth it. If men make all the decisions for women, how are we going to raise our voices? “, he asks.
Khalida admits to refusing to see some recent images of Kabul. The scenes of people crammed into a plane leaving the country, others hanging from the landing gear, preferring death to live under the new regime are too much for her.
“I put the cell phone aside. I’m not looking.”
The captain played a central role in the allegations of abuse suffered by the players. FIFA investigated the then country’s president, Keramuudin Karim, and banned him from that post in 2018. In the fight for visibility of local women’s football, it believes it has contributed more when she moved to Denmark than when she played for the team. .
Being on the pitch in the national team jersey was, in his own words, a better experience than winning the World Cup. Khalida knew he was helping to create a sports culture for women. Something that years ago was unthinkable and has returned with the return of the Taliban to power.
She doesn’t really know what to do now. You have already noticed that the near future does not look bright. What you can do is put what you learned into practice by sitting down at the table with men from the Afghan Federation to make a protest on behalf of their fellow national team and women who wanted to play the game. soccer.
“I used the media to talk about what was going on and to encourage the girls to try the sport. And the more I did that, the more I became a threat to them, the leaders. We must continue to talk about the subject, denounce it, “he defends himself.
After all that has happened, with the announced departure of the United States and other countries that were part of the coalition, after the fall of the government and the near total domination of the Taliban, Khalida Popal is still trying to find the word to describe the situation: