Two former players with Afghanistan’s national women’s team have started football training for women in the Swiss capital, both to improve their footballing skills and to defend the rights of women to play the game.
It’s part of Armisa and Sahar’s* continuing efforts to rebuild their lives after being forced to flee their country for fear of the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist group that was waging an insurgency in Afghanistan when they left. The group returned to power in August 2021.
After their return, the Taliban said they intended to ban women from playing sports. Former national team captain Khalida Popal urged players in Afghanistan to delete any evidence of ever having played football for their own safety.
Armisa and Sahar started playing professional football when they were barely in their teens. Talent scouts picked them out while they were playing for their school teams in Kabul. Armisa, who was on the national team for three years, travelled to Norway, Qatar and Sri Lanka for international matches. She left Afghanistan shortly after that. The footballer stayed in Greece for a year before receiving a humanitarian visa to live in Switzerland. She now plays for a local women’s team in canton St. Gallen, where she lives.
Sahar was on the national team for a year and a half before she, her mother and four siblings left Afghanistan and eventually settled in Switzerland. She’s now doing an apprenticeship as an ICT specialist. Sahar and Armisa received help to set up women’s football training in the Swiss capital from a local refugee support charity, Mazay. The aim of the young women is to eventually find enough players to form a team for competitive matches.
* names have been changed