“The president of the federation drove the players into the bedroom …” Features of football in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is at the center of the world’s attention. The country’s government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, handed over power to the Taliban movement banned in Russia. The Taliban have already entered Kabul and now control the entire territory of the country. Local residents are leaving Afghanistan en masse.
It is clear that these days people are not up to spectacles in general and not to sports in particular. But for foreigners, Afghan football has been and remains a mysterious phenomenon. Recent events are a reason to pay attention to him.
The emergence of football in the country and its development
In 1922, a football federation was created in Afghanistan, thanks to which the country had its own national team. Twelve years later, the first football club, Mahmoudia, was founded, which began playing in the Indian championship.
In 1948, Afghanistan became a member of FIFA and played its first international match at the Summer Olympics in London with the Luxembourg national team. The debut failed: Afghan footballers suffered a crushing defeat with a score of 0: 6 and never participated in the Olympics again.
Six years later, Afghanistan became one of the founders of the Asian Football Confederation, starting to play under its auspices.
But there was a time when football was practically absent in the country. For example, from 1984 to 2003, the Afghan national team did not participate in international competitions due to hostilities in the country. And after the arrival of the Taliban in 1996, football in the country was banned. During this time, the Afghan national team dropped to 173rd place in the FIFA world rankings.
In 2003, after the Taliban left, the national team of Afghanistan resumed performances in the qualifiers for the Asian Cup and the World Cup, but still has not managed to break into the main draw of at least one of the tournaments.
At the same time, she still won one international trophy. In September 2013, the Afghan national team won the South Asian Championship, beating the Indian team with a score of 2: 0 in the final match. After the victory of the national team in Kabul, festive celebrations began, since until that moment the team’s best achievement was the fourth place at the 1951 Asian Games.
In the selection for the 2022 World Cup, Afghanistan fell into the group with Qatar, Oman, India and Bangladesh. Following the results of eight matches, the team took the penultimate fourth place (scored six points), having won one victory and drew three times.
How the Afghanistan Championship works
In 2012, the football revolution took place in Afghanistan. The country’s federation has decided to create a professional Afghan Premier League. At the same time, eight clubs were created, which became participants in the new championship. Previously, the league in Afghanistan was split into seven groups that covered clubs from all over the country.
Most surprisingly, the players for the new championship were selected through a reality talent show called Maidan e sabz (Green Field), hosted by Afghan Tolo TV star Mokhtar Lashkari. Then the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation of Afghanistan, dissolved later in 2019, praised the creation and development of the new league as an opportunity to bring peace and stability to the country.
In the first season, which ran from late September to mid-October, eight Premier League clubs were split into two groups. The teams that took first and second places in their groups advanced to the semifinals, and then determined the winner in the final game. The first champion of the new league was Tufan Herirud, and the current winner is Shahin Asmaye from Kabul, the most titled club in Afghanistan in recent times.
In about a month, a new season should begin in the country, but its implementation is under threat of disruption due to the political situation in the country.
The scandal involving the president of the Afghan Football Federation
In November 2018, a major scandal erupted in Afghan football. Former head of the women’s football department of the Afghan federation, Khalida Popat, who fled to Denmark, said that the players of the women’s national team, who have to play in hijabs, were harassed, raped and threatened.
“The AFF president has used his power to build a private kingdom within the football federation. He is a former military leader and creator of a culture of violence. He was guarded by armed bodyguards. He had a separate bedroom in his study. He forced the players into a room, where he sexually assaulted and beat them, ”Popat said.
Later, the British edition of The Guardian published an article in which it also said that some players of the women’s national team of Afghanistan were victims of violence. Representatives of the AFF took part in this, including the head of the organization, Keramuudin Karim. The federation denied the allegations, but the Afghan prosecutor’s office began investigating the case.
A month later, Karim and five other officials of the organization were suspended from work in connection with accusations of harassment against the players of the women’s national team. And in July 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the FIFA decision on life disqualification and a fine of one million Swiss francs (almost 80 million rubles) against the former president of the Afghan Football Federation.
During the trial, Afghan women’s national team players testified from a secure location, over the phone, using a voice scrambler to protect their identity.
What will happen to the women’s national team of Afghanistan?
Afghanistan’s football officials now fear that the Taliban may punish them for promoting women’s football in the country.
President of Indian Football Club Delhi and former FIFA regional head Shaji Prabhakaran told Outlook India that Afghan officials and their families fear for their lives as they have promoted women’s football in the country for the past seven years.
The Taliban are in control of Kabul and the situation is very grim. The airport is still safe, but the Taliban will soon block everything, ”Prabhakaran said.
In 2007, Popat and her friends formed Afghanistan’s first national women’s soccer team. Subsequently, Khalida became the head of the women’s football department of the Afghan Federation, but already in 2012 she had to leave the country.
“Life has become difficult. I was threatened with death, forbidden to travel and communicate with the press. They took my respect. I couldn’t help it. I had no choice but to leave my country.
Under the Taliban regime, women were not allowed to go to school, see a doctor or work. They were chained to their homes. So we started playing football, which was completely new in our culture, because sport was not seen as something for women, ”Popat recalled.
Now, women’s football in Afghanistan may be banned again.
«Талибан» — запрещённая в России организация.