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‘Symbolic’ Afghanistan National Women’s Soccer Team Gives a Voice for the Voiceless on and off the Pitch in Melbourne

The team started its season alongside Melbourne Victory, nine months after fleeing Kabul.(ABC Sport: Damien Peck)
The team started its season alongside Melbourne Victory, nine months after fleeing Kabul.(ABC Sport: Damien Peck)

More than 11,000 kilometres from Kabul, Afghanistan National Women’s players have returned to their beloved game of football. 

The scene was set. An autumn afternoon in Melbourne at the start of May, with rays of hope from the sun peeking through the clouds at a suburban park, far from the lights of bigger stadiums.

Separated from families where girls can’t attend school, Afghanistan’s highest-profile women’s sporting team has started its first season nine months after seeking asylum in Australia.

Human Rights Advocate and former Socceroos captain Craig Foster has been helping guide the women in their relocation to play in Victoria’s State League Division 4 West under the banner of the Melbourne Victory Afghan Women’s Team.

“Teams like this wonderful team from Afghanistan are incredibly important because they represent tens of thousands of refugees who don’t have a voice,” Foster said.

“They know that every time they kick a ball here, every time they score a goal, every time they even take to the field with a smile and enjoy their basic right to playing sport, they’re striking a blow for all women and girls in Afghanistan. They’re striking a blow for women’s rights all around the world.”

There’s so much more at stake for these women than winning football, having given up so much to relocate their livelihood for an opportunity just to play at what’s now considered a home away from home.

“The fact that they are football players … through sport, it gives them the opportunity to tell their story,” Foster said.

“It gives them the opportunity to speak to Australians. And as we come to know and love this team, we can also then consider better what it is that we’re doing to other refugees.

“So this team is incredibly symbolic, of so much that Australia needs to change.”

Foster, along with Football Victoria, A-Leagues national champions Melbourne Victory and a vast network of supporters have helped create an environment for the women and girls to integrate with Australian life on and off the field.

“If they were still there today they’d be at extreme risk, they certainly wouldn’t be able to play, nor to attend university, or for some of the young ones even to attend school,” Foster said.

“These women and girls, along with all of the vast majority of other Afghans who came, came without families, they fled under circumstances where there simply wasn’t enough visas to go around.

“Those two entities (Melbourne Victory and Afghan NWT) are creating something incredibly important here, not just for these women or women’s rights around the world, but actually for Australia’s future of accepting and understanding and being humane towards all refugees.”

Playing out of a pitch at the aptly named Ron Barassi Senior Park — named for someone who was killed in action in Tobruk while risking his life and inspiring others — the side has stuck together where they can to make the most of their new opportunities.

For this group of Afghan women and girls, rather than relocate separately, forming a stronger sisterhood binds a big part of the comforts of home.

Mursal, a defender, said the most challenging part was feeling the effects of separation from loved ones.

“The most challenging thing is [our families] that we’re by ourselves. We have to study as well, we have to work to support our families back in Afghanistan,” Mursal said.

“When you have your family, they’re the first supporter of you in every situation. If you’re bad or you’re good, they’ll say, ‘it’s OK, next time.’

“The soccer pitch is the only place where we can forget everything such as those bad experiences we had in airports or in Afghanistan. We can forget we don’t have our families as well.

Mursal knows as long as she’s playing on the pitch with her teammates, they can continue to speak out for those who can’t.

“We can be a voice for those who are voiceless in Afghanistan. We can fight for their law,” she said.

“We want to tell the world, please support women in Afghanistan. Every woman in Afghanistan has their own talents and they’re so talented if you give them some opportunities.

“I love my country, I love Afghanistan and I hope one day our country will be free and all girls can improve and they will have their own choice.”

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