Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Female Footballers Overcome Obstacles

Afghanistan's first women’s team looks forward to performing on the international stage.
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They practice on concrete rather than on grass, and their kit is far from uniform, but Afghanistan's premier women’s football team is looking forward to making history this summer when it plays its first international match.


Even before they step onto the pitch at the Banuwan women's competition in Iran in August, the women of Kabul Selected will have overcome more obstacles than most athletes.


The team has been playing in organised leagues for a little more than a year. When they began, most training took place behind closed doors. While they still lack the amenities available to male players, the best players from the capital's 12 girls' teams have moved into the open.


Ranging in age from 12 to 18, they train on the concrete apron next to the grass field at Kabul Athletic Stadium, where the Taleban once conducted public executions. The grass is usually reserved for male teams, so the women make do with a practice area smaller than a regulation pitch.


They wear caps and outfits in varied colours that cover them from head to toe.


Few have more than a few months' experience, but what they lack in skill they make up in enthusiasm.


Team captain Shamila, 16, has been playing for six months. She can recite a litany of obstacles that she and her teammates face, including lack of transportation to and from practices, inadequate training facilities and even the absence of snacks.


Shamila said she and her teammates would prefer to have a female coach, although they have no complaints about Abdul Saboor Walizada, 41, their current trainer, a man.


Then there are the neighbourhood gossips who can't accept the idea of female athletes.


"The neighbours haven't said anything to me directly, but my father was asked, 'Why is your daughter playing football?' " said Shamila.


"'I myself told her to play football,' my father told him,” Shamila continued with a trace of pride in her voice.


Much work still needs to be done. Kabul Selected has yet to face an opponent on a regulation football pitch and the current roster of 25 players must be reduced to 18 before their first match.


Sayed Ahmad Zia Mozafari, secretary general of the Afghan football federation, said plans are in hand to help the girls’ team, such as providing it with a proper playing field near the Wahadat High School.


The federation will also try to recruit a female trainer from Germany.


Mozafari noted that that the Federation of International Football Associations, FIFA, has pledged 35,000 US dollars to promote women's football in Afghanistan – but said the money has yet to arrive.


Mohammad Jawad Sharifazda is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.