Players from the Afghanistan youth women’s soccer team – all ages 13 to 19 – arrived in England Thursday morning after boarding a flight from Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, the Leeds United team from the Premier League and Kim Kardashian West.
A plane chartered by reality show stars and carrying more than 30 teenage gamer girls and their families – about 130 in all – landed at Stansted Airport near London. The players will spend 10 days in quarantine for the coronavirus before starting their new lives in England.
Britain and other countries evacuated thousands of Afghans in expedited air transport when Kabul fell to Taliban insurgents in August. More people have fled to neighboring countries in hopes of continuing their journey west.
Women playing sports are seen as an act of political resistance against the Taliban, and hundreds of female athletes have fled Afghanistan since the group returned to power and began curtailing women’s education and liberties.
The first chapter was written today! When I received a call asking for help to save the youth team from Afghanistan, I didn’t even know where to start. Today they flew to England. Proud to be part of the team to make this happen. Let’s dream one day they will play in @LUFC️ pic.twitter.com/XLPv6IXByi
– Andrea Radrizzani (@andrearadri) November 18, 2021
Khalida Popal, the former captain of the Afghanistan women’s national team who has spearheaded efforts to evacuate female athletes, said she was “very happy and very relieved” that girls and women were out of danger.
“Many of the families fled their homes when the Taliban took over. Their homes were burned,” Popal told the Associated Press. “Some of their relatives were killed or captured by the Taliban. So the danger and pressure is very high, and that’s why it’s so important to move quickly to get them out of Afghanistan.”
Australia evacuated members of the Afghanistan women’s national football team, and the youth women’s team moved to Portugal.
Members of the development team, many of whom came from poor families in the country’s provinces, made it to Pakistan and eventually got British visas. But they were left in uncertainty for several weeks without a flight to leave the country as their Pakistan visa deadline reached its final countdown.
The team received help from the Tzedek Association, an American nonprofit group that previously helped the last known member of Kabul’s Jewish community leave Afghanistan.
The group’s founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, has worked with reality star Kardashian West on criminal justice reform in the United States. She contacted him to help pay for a charter plane to England.
“Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wanted to pay for the entire flight,” Margaretten said.
A Kardashian West spokesperson confirmed that the star and her SKIM brand had chartered the flight.