Afghan’s Women’s Soccer Team Finds Safety in Portugal


AP News

The Afghan Women’s Soccer Team celebrates after arriving in Lisbon, Portugal on Sept. 19, 2021.

Ruby Morris, Staff Writer

On Sunday, Sept. 19th, the Afghan Women’s Nation Soccer team landed in Lisbon, Portugal, finally free from the Taliban’s rule.

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan after US forces left the country in late August. Despite promises to preserve peace and equality, the Taliban quickly cracked down on women’s rights, banning women from playing all professional sports. The Taliban also replaced the country’s “Women’s Affairs Ministry” with “Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”

The girls, all between 14 and 16, had been trying to leave for weeks. They had been moving from safehouse to safehouse. Farkhunda Muhtaj, the captain of the team who had escaped to Canada weeks prior, had been helping the team stay calm through virtual Yoga and other activities. 

The operation to fly the team to Portugal was dubbed “Operation Soccer Balls” by US authorities and officials. It was delayed multiple times, due to other failed rescue attempts and suicide bombings carried out by the Taliban. 

On Sunday, September 18, the team members and their families left Afghanistan via a private plane. They landed in Lisbon, Portugal hours later.

Although the girls were granted freedom from the Taliban, they still miss their home. “They left their homes and left everything behind,” Muhtaj said in an AP News interview. “They can’t fathom that they’re out of Afghanistan.” 

Some girls spoke to news outlets through an interpreter. When asked about what they would do next, some said they wanted to continue to play soccer for Afghanistan. Others said that they wanted to meet Cristiano Ronaldo, a Portugal native and a soccer superstar. 

“They (the team) can dream now,” Wida Zemari, former goalkeeper for the team said, “They can continue to play.”