Female Football Players React to BBC’s Newsnight Report: “We Are in Danger”

By: Mostafa Behnod

Recently, BBC Newsnight reported that some of the girls evacuated to the United Kingdom as Afghan footballers were not actually football players. One of the evacuated girls stated on the Newsnight show that the evacuation list had been altered. This report has been met with strong reactions from many Afghan female football players living in the U.K., who fear that it could have a negative impact on female players seeking refuge in the U.K.

Najma Arefi, a female football player, was evacuated to Britain on August 15, 2021, following the Taliban’s arrival. Initially, she managed to escape Afghanistan to Pakistan, where she was quickly evacuated to the U.K. In an interview with Hasht-e-Subh, Najma stated, “I had to leave Afghanistan in order to survive. We experienced a great deal of hardship until we reached Pakistan. It is not our fault that the republic system in Afghanistan collapsed and the Taliban gained control; former politicians and leaders failed, causing us to be forced to flee the country.”

Najma expressed her criticism of BBC Newsnight and expressed her concern for the future of female football players in Afghanistan and abroad. She lamented the BBC’s report, which she believes will only serve to fuel anti-immigration protests in the U.K., making life difficult for Afghan girls in both the U.K. and Afghanistan.

Sahar Chamran, a former active member of Herat’s female football team, played a significant role in helping her team win Afghanistan’s Premier League Cup in 2019. During the waning days of the former republic regime in Afghanistan, female football players under the age of 23 were preparing to travel to Tajikistan for a match, but the regime’s collapse thwarted Sahar and her teammates’ dreams. Finally, in November 2021, Sahar and her teammates were evacuated.

In a conversation with Hasht-e-Subh, Sahar expressed her sadness and anger that the largest news channel in the world had attacked her and her teammates. This could have had a detrimental effect on the morale of female football players in Afghanistan, and the BBC report may put the families of these players in danger.

Sosan Mohammadi, another female footballer from Herat, is currently residing in the United Kingdom, where she is training alongside Najma Arefi and Sahar Chamran. In an interview with Hasht-e-Subh, Sosan discussed the difficulties she faced under the Taliban’s rule and then in Pakistan. She stated that she was beginning to adjust to life in the U.K., but is now concerned about her future in the country. “I am very saddened. However, after the BBC report was broadcast, I can no longer see the same joy on my teammates’ faces. This is because people are questioning them if they are indeed football players or if they were lying. The female footballers who are still in Afghanistan, including our families, are in great danger due to the report. We are all very distressed,” Sosan said.

According to an article published on the Newsnight BBC on Thursday, March 16th, the majority of the thirteen Afghan women who were relocated to Britain for the purpose of playing football were not actually footballer.

According to the BBC’s Newsnight report, the majority of the 130 evacuee girls to the U.K. are not actually part of the national team of female football players in Afghanistan. The report also suggested that 13 players were not members of Afghanistan’s female football team, and that the designation of the primary candidates as national players or members of a province squad appears to be inaccurate in some cases, despite the fact that their names and other identifying information are correct.

In Afghanistan, girls rarely receive the approval of their families to join sports teams. After the Taliban’s takeover, they were subjected to humiliation on the streets and forced to flee the country. Consequently, some of the female football players were evacuated to Australia, while the others sought refuge in European countries, such as the U.K. Additionally, there are a few female football players who are currently residing in the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and Iran, and are awaiting relocation to one of the European countries.