It’s been twenty-two years since a Soviet bomb almost wiped out the Afghan national soccer team, the Starlets. This summer’s World Cup in Russia was a celebration of Afghan soccer — a dominant presence among the 32 participants — despite the war raging in its country. But another war is going on in the center of the country. The Taliban — bitter enemies of President Ashraf Ghani — now rule large swaths of the country.
In a panel discussion at a Women in the World New York City Festival event about the sport, former Afghan soccer star Khalida Popal, whose daughter was assassinated in 2012, spoke about the country’s renewed need for leadership, which until recently included soccer. (No local teams were allowed to play in the World Cup earlier this year; the national team’s participation was thanks to an unlikely alliance with the US military.)
Popal was also interviewed by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Christopher Wilson, who wrote about the rise of the Taliban for the Washington Post. Popal appeared to be an unlikely hero for a movement that targets any group that opposes its extremism, but she is married to a man with links to anti-Taliban fighters, who she credits with saving her life. “Sport helped me even know where to run away from,” she said of the Taliban. “And somehow I managed to make my way to the airport with enough money to buy tickets.”
Read the full piece here.
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