Khalida Popal: “In which book does it say that my place is not in football?”

Khalida Popal: “In which book does it say that my place is not in football?”
Khalida Popal: “In which book does it say that my place is not in football?”

She is the only girl of five siblings. Playing soccer could be just another way to entertain herself, but for Khalida Popal it was more than that: it was the first time she felt free. Over the years it became a form of activism. After all, being a woman and a soccer player in Afghanistan is a challenge to Islamic laws and culture. But Khalida has never been one to settle and tell everything in my beautiful sistersbook published last Thursday in English by John Murray Press.

It took him a long time to accept that his story would be recorded in a book, but, at 37 years old, he felt it was the right time to do it. The activist, who currently lives as a refugee in Denmark, believes that the struggle of Afghan women “is not well known in the Western world.” Maybe a book will help counteract this.

His first contact with this fight was precisely through football. It was when he started playing soccer that he began to hear that “girls should be with other girls and not with boys.” And that was also when he began to resist.

At 15 years old she decided to bring together a group of girls with the same passion for sports. She convinced students and teachers, opened a school and tried to convince other women in other parts of Afghanistan to follow in her footsteps. Getting started “was easy,” she remembers, especially because her mother was a Physical Education and English teacher. School tournaments soon began, which were so successful “in society” that the necessary conditions were met to form the first women’s soccer league.

In 2007, the Afghan Football Federation recognized the women’s national football team, which Khalida helped found and captained. They wore the country’s jersey for the first time that year, at a tournament in Pakistan. “When the national anthem played it was the most beautiful thing that happened to us,” she recalls to the newspaper. The Guardian.

“Representing our country when we were told we belonged in the kitchen was a great achievement. I never played in a World Cup, but for me that moment was like winning one,” he remembers.

The dark side of the mission

Not without blemish: “They said we were prostitutes, bad women and that we were brainwashing women by being against Islamic culture and beliefs.” It was this type of thinking that ended up alienating some players from the team, forced to marry by their families, he said, in conversation with P3. In protest, one of them even set herself on fire.

Khalida’s case couldn’t be more different. Her mother always helped her live her dreams: “I am happy because my mother and other teachers supported us. It was thanks to them that we were able to continue our movement. It is thanks to them that we are still here.”

In 2011 she began working at the federation, being the first woman to do so and to hold a position on the board of directors of the women’s football committee. At that time, her activism “was more visible than ever,” but it was also when the death threats and persecution began.

He said to guardian who escaped from a gunman by hiding in traffic in Kabul. He says he was “lucky to have survived,” but, in reality, this episode was just the beginning. It wasn’t long before the family also began to be the target of persecution: “It is very dangerous to provoke people in an Islamic country. It doesn’t take long until they stone you or shoot you,” he said.

With no other options, he decided to leave the country. In 2011 she went to Denmark. “When I left [do Afeganistão], I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I had to leave to protect myself and my family. Unfortunately, the danger and challenges never left me.”

He lived for two years in a refugee center. She says that exile brought a new challenge: it was no longer that of being a woman, but that of being a refugee. “Refugees face a negative narrative in media about them. The way politicians talk about us is crazy. “I saw how difficult life was in the refugee centers, especially for women who were dealing with their traumas, as well as the isolation.”

Also at the shelter, she used football to support and empower women, helping them “do anything to not think” about what they left behind. This is how, in 2014, Power was created, an organization with sports programs for migrant boys and girls. They currently help more than 10 thousand women and children in more than ten countries (Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India).

Fight without a country

In 2021, the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan. With the departure of the United States from the region, in just 20 days, the country retreated and re-applied the moral rules of the past. “It was so difficult to see our country fall into the hands of taliban. “It was shocking because we were not prepared for it.”

There were many who tried to leave and many others who were expelled, and eyes turned to the women’s national soccer team. “They sent me messages saying they were afraid,” he remembers. With the help of the then Leeds United president, the ROKiT Foundation and the man of influence Kim Kardashian, the main team and the youth teams managed to leave the country for Australia, one of the The “best moments” of Khalida’s life.

Regarding what remains to be done, he refers to the recognition by FIFA that, until now, “it has ignored”. Despite this, the international federation acted when, in 2016, five Afghan players reported sexual abuse in the women’s football federation. After an investigation of guardianFIFA ended up permanently dismissing Keramuddin Karim, former president of the federation.

He does not hide that he would like to return to the country where he was born, but he admits that “no longer belongs to a single country”: Inspire people, support them and help them discover their power and how they can use it for the good of society. It is not exclusive to a territory.

Com my beautiful sisters She hopes to leave a message to all women in the world: “If you give up today, you will not bring changes to the future generation. Break that chain so that at least the next generation doesn’t have to face what you are facing. I believed in myself and said that my place is wherever I want. And in what book does it say that my place is not in football?

Text edited by Inês Chaíça

 
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