15-year-old Sarah says it was painful to leave her homeland, Afghanistan. But now safely in Portugal, she hopes to pursue her dream of playing football professionally – and perhaps meeting her idol, star striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
Sara was one of several players on the Afghanistan national women’s youth football team who fled their country in fear after the Taliban radical Islamist movement came to power in August. Portugal has given refuge to young footballers. “I am free,” she said, smiling from ear to ear, as she visited Lisbon’s historic Belém Tower on the Tagus River with her mother and companions.
“My dream is to be a good player like Ronaldo – and I want to be a big business woman here in Portugal,” she said. She hoped to go back home one day, but only if she could live independently. His mother, who requested that Reuters not use his surname, first experienced the previous era of Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
He is less optimistic that they will ever be able to return. Taliban leaders have promised to respect women’s rights but under their first government women could not work and girls were banned from going to school.
When leaving home, women had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative. After the August 15 takeover, a senior Taliban official said that women would probably not be allowed to play the sport because it was “not necessary” and their bodies could be exposed. “The reason for this mission (to evacuate the team) was to ensure that they could go on and play the game of their choice,” said Afghanistan women’s senior national team captain Farkhunda Muhtaz. Youth team player.
From her home in Canada, where she works as an assistant soccer coach at a local university, Muttaj has been in contact with girls during the evacuation process, codenamed Operation Soccer Balls.
It managed to rescue a total of 80 people – the women’s youth team and family members including children. They reached Portugal on 19 September. When Muhtaz arrived on Wednesday night, the girls jumped with joy. He hugged.
Some could not hold back their tears. “They have gone through so many challenges,” Muhtaz said.
“They were just resilient and they were able to do that.”
A relative, 25-year-old Zaki Rasa, recalled the chaos at Kabul airport, where he had spent three sad days. He is now happy living in Portugal and wants to continue his studies.
“There is some uncertainty about the future,” he said. “The important thing is that we are safe.”
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)