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Afghanistan women’s soccer players evacuated to safety

Former captain Khalida Popal encouraged the team after the evacuation from Afghanistan. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

As evacuations continue from Afghanistan, players from the women’s national soccer team are now among those who have escaped Taliban rule.

The players joined a group of 75 people who left the country on a flight from Kabul on Tuesday with the help of the Australian government. Global soccer players’ union FIFPRO thanked Australia for making the evacuation of players, team officials and family members possible.

“These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger and on behalf of their peers around the world, we thank the international community for coming to their aid,” the union said in a statement.

Under Taliban rule, women playing sports is seen as a political act of defiance. Since the United States-backed Afghanistan government fell to the Taliban last week after a 20-year war, former team captain Kahlida Popal advised players to delete social media posts, burn their jerseys and erase any other evidence of their participation.

Popal, who helped with the evacuation as a FIFPRO adviser, called the effort an “important victory.”

“The last few days have been extremely stressful but today we have achieved an important victory. The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan,” Popal said of the national team, which was formed in 2007. “But there is still much more work to do. Women’s football is a family and we must make sure everyone is safe.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has set Aug. 31 as the deadline for military withdrawal from Afghanistan.