By Jon Essien
Former captain of the Afghanistan women’s national team, Khalida Popal has labeled the Taliban’s return to power a ‘nightmare’ as she fears for the safety of girls and women under the new regime.
The Taliban had seized control of Afghanistan after 20 years outside of power, following the withdrawal of foreign troops over the summer, forcing foreigners in the country to scamper for safety.
Popal said she has received messages from her former team-mates saying they are scared of how the regime may treat women and unsure if they will be able to leave the country.
“I receive messages from players from Afghanistan who are crying, saying we are abandoned and stuck at home not able to get out, they are afraid,” Popal told BBC Sport. “All the dreams have just gone. It is just like a nightmare,” she added.
Popal, 34, is now based in Denmark, where she still serves as the Director of the Afghanistan women’s national team.
“Players are sending their videos and saying: ‘The people I talked against are now outside my door, I cannot breathe, I am so scared and I don’t see any protection.
“What is happening right now is back to square one. We feel the show is over,” the former soccer player added.
Popal, who helped form the first Afghan women’s national team in 2007, has said she fears for the safety of girls and women under Taliban rule.
“We encouraged women and girls to stand up and be bold, and now I am telling them to take photos down, shut down your social media and try to shut down their voices. This causes so much pain.
“The players have been so vocal, standing up for women’s rights, and now their lives are in grave danger,”she said.
Popal did stop playing soccer, but it hasn’t stopped her from activism especially in the fight for gender equity.
The 34-year-old grew up in a community disapproved of young girls playing football and began throwing stones and calling them “prostitutes” for playing football.
Despite going into exile, the pioneer remains connected to her country and is involved in so many activities projects, including helping women in terms of healthy lifestyle and sports.
In Denmark, Popal launched Girl Power Organisation, an association that aims to use football to facilitate refugee women’s integration into local communities.