"We're just trying to lead normal lives, doing what we want to do.
Why shouldn't we?" The members [of Afghanistan women's national team], who range in age from 16 to 24, are up against widespread resentment from their relatives* and neighbors, and threats from men who disapprove of women playing sports
. They managed to participate in an inclusive tournament in Berlin
and they registered their first official win as they defeated Pakistan national women's team 4-0 and reached the semi-finals of the 2nd SAFF women's championship in 2012 improving on their past performance (rough 2010 SAFF footage
). They're able to practice just three times a week for 90 minutes, occasionally at the stadium
) or in its gym, but more often at a helicopter landing pad on a base for NATO troops, where practices are interrupted by takeoffs and landings.
Players have some outside support from hummel
, the sponsor of the women's
and the men's
team, and have had football clinics in Stuttgart
and with Olympic U.S. player Lorrie Fair in Kabul
.Even in wartime, the Afghans have always been enthusiastic football fans.
(trigger warning: violence) They played football in the 1980s, when the Russians were there, they played football in the 1990s, when the country was embroiled in a civil war in which Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbek were massacring each other, and they played football under the Taliban, albeit with long beards, long trousers and long sleeves.
It may be a long way from the standards of European football leagues, but the newly created Roshan Afghan Premier League has generated huge excitement and turned people across the country into football fans overnight.
It all started with a single reality TV programme on Afghanistan's main private channel, Tolo: the Maidan-e-Sabz (Green Field) programme offered aspiring footballers the chance to compete for a place in eight newly-formed football teams across Afghanistan.
Ali Askar Lali
is a former Afghan international who in 1981 arrived as a refugee in Germany. There he went on to play for and coach a number of teams before heading home to help bring about the re-birth of football and the founding of the APL. Watch full games of the APL here
The Afghan Football Federation was set up in 1933 and it joined Fifa in 1948; the national team played its first-ever match against European opposition at the London Olympic Games in 1948, losing 6-0 to Luxembourg.
But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the ensuing civil war put an end to international football for more than two decades.
None of the players have contracts - they are only paid basic expenses. Teams get their board and lodging paid and players from outside Kabul also get a tiny daily allowance.
The men's national team recently reached the final of the SAFF tournament
). Perhaps Afghanistan's revelatory football performance has its genesis in these kinds of life-experiences. In terms of tactics and skills, Afghanistan was second to none — but in tenacity, it was miles ahead
. Full fixtures
since the inception of Afghanistan men's team.
* * *
There is some footage, with problematic CNN presentation, of the women's national team against ISAF
. Playing in front of a crowd is a rarity for the team, but they won
. More recent photos
of the team.
*CNN reports a failed suicide attempt
, but I couldn't find mention of it somewhere else.
This was 2012: Afghanistan Football in Review