A Sporting Chance

We were a team: the female youth football team of Afghanistan.
It had not been easy getting there.
Persuading the parents, watching mothers’ tears,
facing the aunties bemoaning the loss of tradition and
good girls’ values, such as seeking a rich husband.
Putting up with the tutting neighbours, telling their daughters
to keep away from us, to avoid contamination.
But, we had made it, and relished the chance to live our dreams,
to live our passion; a chance to glory in our healthy, strong female bodies,
and in our strong, confident minds, to show the power of women.

In August 2021, we knew there was trouble.
But Kabul was safe, we were told. Nothing will happen.
We ignored the worry of the news and focused on training,
resenting as usual, the distraction of homework and exams.
When it came, the fall of Kabul was like a storm.
You ignore the rumbling thunder for a while, but then
the lightning strikes. That came thick and fast, and
the downpour of devastation was unstoppable.

Overnight we were pariahs, hiding in fear of our lives,
holding our breath for the knock at the door,
as the Taliban went from house to house
with lists of names of those they called infidel.
Yes, we were rescued, eventually, thanks to the
kindness, perseverance and bravery of strangers, at home and abroad.
Others were not so lucky. Other footballers, other athletes.

Some remain hidden, as their fit bodies degrade from the lack of
training, fresh air and proper food.
Others continue their activities, in secret at the risk of prison,
torture or death for them and their loved ones.
But what is life without the freedom they have known.
Some will have a chance to leave,
but what a decision to have to make!
What about their families, left behind.
They despair as they try not give in to shame,
knowing they are risking their relatives’ lives,
a risk if they stay, and a risk if they go.

We took pictures from the plane which took us out of Kabul.
We laughed and cried and hugged, mixing our tears.
We watched our country slip away below us,
thinking of those left behind.

We are still a team.

Marie Sheard