× Sports Football Rugby Olympics Volleyball and Handball Cricket Boxing Golf Hockey Tennis Gossip & Rumours World Cup 2018 Basketball Athletics Sports Premier League Eliud Kipchoge Women in Sports Unique Sports Opinion Motorsport Videos Podcasts E-Paper Lifestyle & Entertainment Nairobian Entertainment Eve Woman Travelog TV Stations KTN Home KTN News BTV KTN Farmers TV Radio Stations Radio Maisha Spice FM Vybez Radio Enterprise VAS E-Learning Digger Classified Jobs Games Crosswords Sudoku The Standard Group Corporate Contact Us Rate Card Vacancies DCX O.M Portal Corporate Email RMS
×
SPORTS

Afghan girls' football squad find new home in Ronaldo's Portugal

FOOTBALL By Reuters | September 30th 2021
The captain of Afghanistan's national women football team Farkhunda Muhtaj (C) poses for a portrait with teammates at the Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal, September 29, 2021. Picture taken September 29, 2021. REUTERS

Leaving her homeland Afghanistan was painful, says 15-year-old Sarah. But now safely in Portugal, she hopes to pursue her dream of playing soccer professionally - and perhaps meeting her idol, star striker Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sarah was one of several players from Afghanistan's national female youth soccer squad who fled their country in fear after the Taliban hardline Islamist movement seized power in August.

Portugal has granted asylum to the young footballers.

"I'm free," she said, smiling from ear-to-ear as she visited Lisbon's landmark Belem Tower on the River Tagus with her mother and teammates.

"My dream is to be a good player like Ronaldo - and I want to be a big business woman here in Portugal," she said.

She hoped to go back home one day but only if she can live freely.

Her mother, who requested that Reuters did not use their surname, had experienced first-hand a previous era of Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. She is less optimistic they will ever be able to return.

Taliban leaders have promised to respect women's rights but under their first government, women could not work and girls were banned from school. Women had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home.

A senior Taliban official said after the Aug. 15 takeover that women would probably not be allowed to play sport because it was "not necessary" and their bodies might be exposed.

September 29, 2021 Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their second goal REUTERS

"The reason we took on this mission (to evacuate the team) was to ensure they can aspire and play the sport they love," said Farkhunda Muhtaj, captain of the Afghanistan women's senior national team, who flew to Lisbon on Wednesday to surprise the youth team players.

From her home in Canada, where she works as assistant soccer coach at a local university, Muhtaj has been in touch with the girls throughout the evacuation process, codenamed Operation Soccer Balls. It managed to rescue a total of 80 people - the female youth team and family members, including babies.

They landed in Portugal on Sept. 19.

When Muhtaj showed up on Wednesday night, the girls were ecstatic. They hugged. Some could not hold back the tears.

"They been through so much, so many challenges," Muhtaj said. "They were just resilient and they were able to make it happen."

One relative, 25-year-old Zaki Rasa, recalled the chaos at the Kabul airport, where he spent three anguished days. He is now delighted to be in Portugal and wants to continue his studies.

"There is some uncertainty about the future," he said. "The important thing is that we are safe."

Share this story
Europa League: Legia sink Leicester, Spartak upset Napoli in thriller
Leicester City lost 1-0 at Legia Warsaw in Europa League Group C on Thursday in another blow to the English side's hopes of reaching the knockout stag
Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon dreaming of marathon transition
Two-time Olympic 1500m champion Faith Chepng’etich Kipyegon is keen to follow in the steps of Eliud Kipchoge–stage good shows on the track and graduat
.
RECOMMENDED NEWS
Feedback