'Burn kits and delete social media': Former Afghan women's football captain warns players

19 August 2021, 17:39

Outspoken women have previously faced reprisals from the Taliban.
Outspoken women have previously faced reprisals from the Taliban. Picture: Alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

The former captain of the Afghan women’s football team has told players to prioritise their safety now that the country is again under Taliban rule by deleting photos on social media and destroying kit.

Khalida Popal has advised female football players to erase their public identities by deleting photos of themselves and burning their football kits.

Khalida Popal, who is based in Copenhagen, gave a video interview on August 18 in which she made the comments.

Despite in the past telling female footballers to "stand strong, to be bold, to be visible”, Popal stressed that her message must now change in order for women to protect themselves from possible reprisals from the Taliban.

“Today I’m calling them and telling them, take down their names, remove their identities, take down their photos for their safety. Even I’m telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform,” she said.

Read more: Afghan youth footballer found dead in US plane after attempting to flee Taliban

“And that is painful for me, for someone as an activist who stood up and did everything possible to achieve and earn that identity as a women’s national team player.

“To earn that badge on the chest, to have the right to play and represent our country, how much we were proud.”

Popal spoke of the risk that women’s rights would suffer under the Taliban. Under previous Taliban rule, women were not allowed to work or leave the house without a male relative.

Read more: Desperate Afghan mothers fleeing Taliban 'throw babies over Kabul airport barbed wire'

“They are so afraid. They are worried, they are scared, not only the players, but also the activists ... they have nobody to go to, to seek protection, to ask for help if they are in danger,” she said.

“They are afraid that any time the door will be knocked.”

A Fifa spokesperson said the organisation share “concern and sympathy with all those affected by the evolving situation".

“We are in contact with the Afghanistan football federation, and other stakeholders, and will continue to monitor the local situation and to offer our support in the weeks and months to come.”