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Honoring the Afghan women’s sports teams likely to be banned by the Taliban

Afghan women football players pose during a practice ahead of the South Asia Football Federation (SAFF) women’s football championship at the Sports Complex in Islamabad on November 10, 2014. (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP via Getty Images)

It didn’t take long for the Taliban to indicate women’s sports will once again be banned now that the regime has regained total control of Afghanistan. Earlier this month, Ahmadullah Wasiq, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, told Australian broadcaster SBS, “Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.” 

The fact that the Afghan women’s cricket team and all other women’s national teams play in full length attire with hijabs is not sufficient for the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam. 

“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this.” 

But it’s more than just the risk of skin exposure and inappropriate attire that the Taliban have issue with. “It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it,” Wasiq stated, indicating any type of public viewership or consumption of women’s sports is equally problematic for the extreme Islamist group.

It’s been 20 years since the oppressive regime was last in power. In that time, a generation of Afghan girls grew up with increased access to sports, and the country developed many national athletic programs for women. 

In 2010, the New York Times reported Afghanistan had started national teams for women in 22 different sports, though many in fledgling stages. Fast forward a decade, and the situation in Afghanistan is once again bleak in almost all aspects, especially for women. 

By taking a closer look at some of the sport programs they have worked so hard to grow over the past two decades, the magnitude of their impending loss is more fully realized.

Cricket:

The sport of cricket, for both men and women, is governed by the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB). After years of hard work, ACB became a full member of the International Cricket Council in 2017. One requirement for ICC membership is to have an active national women’s cricket team. 

According to ACB’s 2020 annual report, tournaments for school age girls have been held from 2014 on. Using those school teams as the player pool, the ACB hosted a series of development camps throughout 2020, gradually narrowing down from 100 original attendees to selecting 40 of the most talented players to the final camp. At the end of the last camp in November 2020, the ACB selected 25 women to be the nation’s first female cricketers awarded professional contracts from ACB. One year prior to the Taliban regaining power, Afghanistan had named its first ever salaried national women’s cricket team.

Soccer:

Similar to the selection process for cricket, a national Afghan women’s soccer team was first formed in 2007. Getting adequate support for the program has been an ongoing battle. Funding, practice space, quality coaching, and athletic training have continually been hard to come by, not to mention familial and community support. 

For much of the team’s existence they practiced on a NATO helipad field that was enclosed from onlookers. The national team’s first official international match was in 2010 at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Women’s Championship. The biannual SAFF Championship was the main tournament for the Afghan team until 2018, when the country switched membership to the Central Asian Football Association (CAFA). That same year several of the women’s players came forward with allegations of sexual and physical abuse by the Afghanistan Football Federation President, Keramuudin Karim.

Given all the hurdles they faced, it’s impressive how much they were able to grow the sport for girls and women in the country. By 2021, there were eight teams participating in the Kabul Women’s Football League. Winners from this league moved on to compete in the Women’s Champions League, where top teams from each province competed for a national title. 

The harrowing evacuation of Afghanistan’s national team players has been well documented in recent weeks. In the past several days, further reports surfaced showing members of the junior national team and their families successfully made it to Pakistan and were housed by Pakistan’s Football Federation before flying to Portugal where they have been granted asylum

Though the high number of women’s soccer players who have successfully emigrated is welcome news, there are masses of female footballers who will remain in the country under an oppressive ruling body that will go to great lengths to prevent them from setting foot back on the pitch.

Basketball:

Efforts to form a national women’s basketball team began shortly after the U.S. ousted the Taliban in 2001. But as late as 2012, the team still had a hard time finding legit opponents, often playing against school age youth teams. 

In an effort to grow the sport, organizers began hosting an annual Afghanistan Women’s Basketball Championship in Kabul. In 2013, the tournament reportedly included over 100 players from 10 teams across three provinces and served as an opportunity to vie for a spot on the 12-person national team. One national team player, Samira Asghari, went on to become the first Afghan member of the International Olympic Committee.

Wheel-Chair Basketball:

One of the biggest sporting success stories in the country has been the development of the Afghan national women’s wheelchair basketball team. Created through a program run by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the team made huge strides from 2012, when they were too afraid to play with spectators, to 2017, when they won an international tournament in Bali. With solid support from the ICRC in the form of equipment, practice space, transportation, and coaching, the number of Afghan women playing the sport exploded, with 120 players on record as of 2017.  

Handball: 

In 2018, the first ever women’s national handball championship was held involving five teams from three provinces, serving as a selection event for the senior and youth national teams.

Track and Field:

Afghanistan has sent three female sprinters to the Olympics since 2004. In June 2021, 60 athletes competed across six running events to qualify for the Women’s Athletics National Team. In Tokyo, flagbearer Kimia Yousofi set a national record for women in the 100M sprint.

Martial Arts: 

In 2004, one of the first two female Olympians from Afghanistan was judoka Friba Rezayee. The 2021 women’s national taekwondo tournament held in Kabul featured 50 athletes.

Volleyball: 

Afghanistan holds a national women’s volleyball tournament every year, and earlier this year an Iran-based Afghan refugee team won the 2021 title, beating a city team from Kabul in the final. Ten teams participated.

Cycling: 

In late 2020, two female freestyle cyclists were named to the Afghan Cycling National Team.

– – –

The Taliban have yet to make any formal statement regarding the future of women’s sports in Afghanistan, but given the regime’s history, public comments from a high ranking official, and the fact no women were included in the new cabinet, the outlook is not good. 

Documenting the sports programs Afghan women bravely pursued over the past two decades is one small way to say, “We see you. We support you.”

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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