In the future in August, Fati was working contained in the women’s soccer department of the Afghanistan Football Federation when an worker from the president’s office burst in, shouting that the Taliban were closing in on Kabul. Gather every document they may find, he said, and put the paperwork in a pile. They needed to destroy anything the Taliban could use to focus on female athletes.
“Hurry!” the person said. “We’re going to burn the whole lot.”
Fati said she and a half-dozen other female staff began opening drawers, grabbing all of the papers they may, sometimes stacking them to their chins as they carried them away.
Registration forms. Girls’ photos. Uniform order forms. Travel documents. All the history of the ladies’s national team program, which began in 2007, soon lay in an unruly heap.
When Fati and her co-workers were done, they stopped to take a breath. It dawned on them: Their lives were really in peril.
Before leaving, Fati grabbed some passports and ID cards that players had left behind and slid them into her backpack. She knew those girls can be stranded in Afghanistan without them.
Three days later, Fati was headed to a final soccer practice for her local club when her phone began sounding off. Frantic messages were popping into the team’s group chat.
Reporting From Afghanistan
“Go home, training is canceled.”
“Don’t go outside, girls.”
Bahara, her former highschool classmate who became a defender on the national team, shared a video she had made from the Taliban arriving in one in all Kabul’s squares. She had been on her way from dental school when she saw trucks flying white Taliban flags, with soldiers honking horns and shooting guns.
“It’s real, girls,” Bahara wrote in Dari, the players’ native language. “They’re here.”
Town became almost unlivable, especially for girls.
Stores and schools closed. Women shut themselves of their homes. The Taliban roamed the streets with paint cans to cover any evidence of retailers like beauty salons.
Day-after-day on Facebook, Fati examine killings and more killings. It was not possible to know what was true. Social media posts showed bloody images stamped 24 hours ago. After which one hour ago. After which one minute ago.
Fati and her teammates knew they needed to go away Afghanistan.
“Just be united and let’s see how we will get out of here and discover a way,” Fati said in a text to her team. “Inshallah, there might be a way.”
One evening, the team received a text from a veteran player named Nilab. She was a team captain known for being outspoken about women’s rights.
She had received an anonymous text: Someway if we see you, we are going to capture you and tie you up like a dog and we is not going to release you. We are going to kill you.
Nilab warned the group: Girls, you understand they will kill the athletes. They may kill them and hang them from the goal within the Olympic Stadium, similar to the Taliban did with people before.
Fati, who was at home, felt a chill undergo her body as her family slept within the adjoining room. Nilab sounded scared. And Nilab, who several times had been abducted and beaten by militants who tried to silence her, was never scared.
On the lookout for help, Nilab tried to succeed in leaders of the Afghan Football Federation and FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, but they didn’t respond.
Finally, a breakthrough. Perhaps the team’s only hope.
Nilab received a text from Khalida Popal, a former captain of the Afghan women’s national team who had fled the country due to death threats prompted by her activism. In 2018, she had exposed a sexual abuse scandal involving Afghan soccer officials who were molesting members of the senior national team, which on the time was the extent above Fati’s.
“I’m a bit of anxious about you,” Popal wrote to Nilab in Dari. “Are you OK?”
Nilab responded with a harrowing voice message: “No, Khalida, I swear to God, we’re locked in the home. that enemies are on every side of our house.”
She ended by saying, “We’ve no technique to escape. Should you can do anything for us, please help us.”
Inside hours, Popal was added to the group chat and introduced herself.
I’m sorry for you girls which you could’t play soccer anymore. I’m in touch with you from Denmark. I’m going to try to seek out a way so that you can get out of Afghanistan. I’m attempting to get you out.
And wherever you find yourself, the united statesA. or wherever, after which you could help your loved ones.
But not now.