It was a big “win” for the Afghan women’s youth development soccer team. The girls, many in their teens, plus coaches and family, 130 in all, arrived recently at a London-area airport. The girls are happy and grateful after their lives had been threatened by Afghanistan’s new, harsh Taliban rulers, who oppose many freedoms and rights for women — especially in sports.
Former Afghan women’s soccer captain Khalida Popal was a key “player” in getting the girls and others out.
“Some of their family members were killed or taken by the Taliban,” Popal said. “So the danger and distress was very high, and that’s why it was very important to move very fast to get them outside Afghanistan.”
Former Afghanistan women’s football captain Khalida Popal at Farum Park stadium on Dec. 21, 2020. Popal played an important role in getting the Afghan girls out of the country. (TARIQ MIKKEL KHAN/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)
But with the departure of U.S. troops, getting them out was not easy.
They were brought from the western city of Herat, they hid out in dangerous Kabul and were smuggled across the border to Pakistan, literally beaten all the way. All of this needed a lot of coordination courtesy of ROKiT Foundation head Siu-Anne Marie Gill. And a lot of funding.
“We had a position where we could do something about it,” ROKiT Group CEO Jonathan Kendrick told Fox News. “We rolled the dice, didn’t really think about the full consequences of it, just got it done, and that’s what we did.”
Khalida Popal, former captain of the Afghan women’s national football team, speaks during the FIFA Annual Conference for Equality & Inclusion at the Home of FIFA in March 2017 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Valeriano Di Domenico – FIFA via Getty Images)
But they weren’t safe yet. As they waited at a hotel in Lahore, Pakistan, their temporary visas were running out. They were at risk of being sent back to Afghanistan and the horrors of the Taliban. That’s when high-profile Rabbi Moshe Margaretten from New York and his Tzedek association active in social causes, came up with a plan.
“I realize what’s going on there, how horrible the situation is,” Margaretten said, “and I know my parents and grandparents are Holocaust survivors [and] even went through a similar situation. I felt I’m not going to sit idle and do whatever I can to save those lives.”
Kim Kardashian West attends the WSJ Magazine 2019 Innovator Awards at MOMA on Nov. 6, 2019, in New York City. The star helped to find Afghan girls a new home. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)
Paying for the plane? An unlikely partner of the rabbi on some missions: Kim Kardashian West and her clothing line. She tweeted that her shapewear company “and I are so grateful to be able to help bring these amazing courageous women and their families to their new home.”
With U.K. officials sorting out visas and a lot of paperwork, and with their COVID-19 quarantine behind them, the girls and families are set to start a new life in England. The British Leeds soccer team is even offering to get the girls back on the field, offering to sponsor them as they hope to score a big victory over the Taliban.