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Afghan women’s handball team was left behind — and now they fear for their lives


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KABUL, Afghanistan — While many Afghan women’s and lady’s sports groups fled the nation within the weeks following the Taliban’s Aug. 15 takeover, a team of handball gamers has been left behind.

The team tried desperately and fruitlessly to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport amid the frantic US evacuation, in accordance with team member Soraya Karimi, 25, who was additionally a regulation pupil and rights activist, in addition to the proud daughter of a lady police officer. Still, every time they obtained near the gates, authorities turned them away.

And over the following weeks, she says, no additional help efforts have been made.

“The teams of badminton, cricket, football [soccer] league teams, many of them have left. The only team left is us,” Soraya says. “The Afghanistan Handball Federation head was lazy and did nothing to get us out. We tried our best to get evacuated, but we couldn’t get out, and there has since been no correspondence.”

Now, the athletes say they are depressed, anxious, afraid and not sure — and unable to play the game they love as they fear for their lives.

Members of the Herat women's handball team.
“The teams of badminton, cricket, football [soccer] league teams, many of them have left. The only team left is us,” Soraya Karimi explains.
Jake Simkin

“The handball women sports team of Herat is warned to give up exercise and must not do further operations,” cautions the handwritten letter on official Islamic Emirate letterhead. “If this act is repeated, by the Mujahadeen of the Islamic Emirate, you will be severely punished according to Shariah.”

The letter got here months after their teammate, nationwide participant Nooria Tabesh, was gunned down in her dwelling within the northern province of Sar-e-pul in April. Local stories on the time indicated that the assailant fled to close by Taliban-controlled pockets.

The International Sports Press Association subsequently condemned the truth that quite a few related incidents had spiked within the beleaguered nation, usually with no particular person or group claiming accountability and no justice or accountability for the crimes.

Soraya Karimi.
Soraya Karimi claims “the Afghanistan Handball Federation head was lazy and did nothing to get us out.”
Jake Simkin

“The Taliban says that they have changed, but they have not changed, and they are tracking down (activists and athletes),” stated Soraya, sitting alongside her teammates Basira, 18, Anisgul, 19, and Shakiba, 21. “The chief of the Afghan badminton disappeared after the Taliban took over, he has been kidnapped, and we don’t know where he is now. And our teammate was killed during the holy month of Ramadan.”

And on their hurried journey two weeks in the past from their houses in Herat to the seemingly safer confines of Kabul — the place they aren’t as recognized by the neighborhood and thus face fewer dangers — Soraya and her brother have been overwhelmed at a Taliban checkpoint at Kandahar. His whole left aspect seeped purple from the butt of a rifle after the Taliban disapproved of the content material on his cellphone.

Compounding the hazard they face in their hometown, the ladies defined {that a} famed Herat Malawi — a high-ranking spiritual scholar — has denounced the younger girls publicly, stating that they have “no dignity.”

Ministry letter of the Taliban.
A handwritten letter on official Islamic Emirate letterhead warned the team that they “will be severely punished according to Shariah” if they proceed enjoying.
Jake Simkin

Under the earlier reign of the Taliban — formally known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — girls have been strictly barred from all public sports and solely allowed to emerge from the house cloaked in a blue burqa and accompanied by a male family member.

While the Taliban of 2021 declare that they are now extra open-minded, management is refusing to budge on the matter of girls and sports. On the opposite, the highest brass has made it clear that this period is a trigger for much more concern than their final rule, on condition that the potential of pictures and movies of women amid sports would possible make their manner into the media and tarnish their hardline Islamic view that girls shouldn’t be in any manner uncovered.

Throughout the two-decade US occupation, regardless of all its fallibility, women and girls cracked by means of the deeply conservative social cloth to not solely be taught to play in public settings however actively compete in all the pieces from boxing, badminton and basketball to cricket, chess, karate, powerlifting and hockey, internationally.

The Herat European Handball team.
Under the earlier reign of the Taliban, girls have been strictly barred from all public sports.
Jake Simkin

The handball rivals have been no exception. The first Afghanistan Women’s National Handball Championship was held in November 2018, with 5 groups from three provinces concerned within the contest. Since then, the ladies have participated in numerous matches — from Iran and Pakistan to Bangladesh and India.

But in accordance with Akif Muhajer, the 32-year-old, newly appointed spokesperson for the reinstated Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, such sports wouldn’t have a spot in Afghan society and primarily have been show-and-tell pawns beneath the earlier Ashraf Ghani-led authorities.

“Even the previous government didn’t support women’s sports. It was just a nominal thing to show people in the United States so they could collect lots of money in donations,” he stated.

Akif Muhajer.
Akif Muhajer is the newly appointed spokesperson for the reinstated Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Jake Simkin

Some feminine Afghan athletes have managed to seek out refuge overseas. Last month, the Afghan nationwide feminine soccer team and their households crossed into neighboring Pakistan following a string of reported threats en path to the United States and Europe.

This week, dozens of Afghan soccer gamers and their family members have been granted resettlement within the UK simply as their Pakistan short-term visas have been reaching expiration — which might have compelled them to return to their Taliban-controlled homeland.

And the Taliban’s draconian viewpoint on girls might hinder Afghan males’s probabilities at competing on the world stage too. For instance, the International Cricket Council mandates that nations will need to have women’s groups to fulfill full membership necessities.

Vice and Virtue spokesman.
A calendar of girls enjoying sports sits on the desk of Akif Muhajer.
Jake Simkin

The nationwide handball team was listed to take part within the 18th Women’s Handball Championship in Amman, Jordan, final month. Instead, they spent that point operating from home to deal with.

“We loved this sport from childhood. It was our dream to play. Our family supported us and convinced us to play the game,” Soraya says. “She says, we want the (Taliban) to understand, don’t keep us away from sports, from education. We are the future of the country. They should understand we are not of 20 years ago; we will stand for rights. We will fight.”

But staying, Soraya explains, isn’t an possibility.

Hollie McKay with members of the Herat handball team.
Hollie McKay with members of the Herat handball team.
Jake Simkin

“We are homeless now; wherever we go, (the Taliban) is looking for us. The whole team is under surveillance,” Soraya stated. “I’ve acquired warnings — somebody got here previous us on a motorcycle — warning us that if we performed sports, there could be penalties.

“If we don’t leave, we may face the same circumstances as our teammate Nooria,” she added.

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