Former and current United States women's national team players -- including captain Becky Sauerbrunn and star forward Alex Morgan -- have written to the U.S. State Department asking it to grant humanitarian parole to members of the Afghanistan women's national team who are trying to get out of Kabul following the Taliban's takeover of power.
Earlier this week, Australia evacuated more than 50 female Afghan athletes and their dependents after lobbying by prominent figures from the sporting world.
Islamic State suicide bombers killed scores of civilians and at least 13 U.S. troops on Thursday, striking the Kabul airport where thousands of people have been trying to flee in the chaos after the takeover.
"On behalf of the Afghan Women's National Soccer team players currently trapped in Kabul surrounded by violent war crimes and the ongoing pandemic, we strongly urge you to listen to the Senators, veterans, and fellow U.S. citizens calling for humanitarian parole for women activists in Afghanistan, especially these players," the letter said.
"We appreciate the urgent measures you and the Department of Defense are taking to protect Afghan women in this rapidly deteriorating situation. Like you, we are gravely concerned about their safety -- and particularly troubled by the urgent danger women athletes face in Afghanistan at this very moment. For the past decade, these soccer players and other athletes have used sports as a way to advance democracy, human rights, equality for women and girls in their country. But these women and the progress and diplomacy they've created through the sport are now under severe threat from the Taliban.
The women of the Afghan WNT are not just soccer players. They are activists and trailblazers in their country. Our soccer community needs to unite and ask that these women are given the aid they need. @StateDept @FLOTUS #AfghanWNT pic.twitter.com/YnTeKaJZk4— Becky Sauerbrunn (@beckysauerbrunn) August 27, 2021
"The women of Afghanistan's National Soccer Team are being hunted, their lives threatened, all for being involved in the sport we love. They have fled their homes and were forced to erase all evidence of their lives and athletic progress because of their brave decision to promote gender equality through sports. While the U.S. continues to "stand with those who stood with [it]," throughout this time, we hope that the protection of these women will be a priority.
"These women are in Kabul and in the process of finishing their paperwork waiting on approval and transport to the United States. Despite the complications with the evacuation process, we ask that you grant humanitarian parole and immediate protection to the Afghan women soccer players that are in grave danger."
FIFA, soccer's world governing body, said it is negotiating the "extremely challenging" evacuation of soccer players and other athletes from Afghanistan after the Taliban's takeover.
Last week, Afghan national team soccer player Zaki Anwari died as a U.S. plane took off at Kabul airport as crowds of people seeking to flee Afghanistan thronged the airport since Taliban insurgents swept to power in the capital on Aug. 15.
"The FIFA President and Secretary General are following closely the situation and are working tirelessly with governments and relevant organisations to get those at risk out of Afghanistan," a FIFA spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.
"FIFA's leadership is personally involved in negotiating the complex evacuation of footballers and other athletes. This is an extremely challenging environment."
FIFPRO, the worldwide association for professional soccer players, said it has also been heavily involved in efforts to get the athletes out and it appreciated the Australian government's efforts.
The former captain of the Afghan women's soccer team, Khalida Popal, has urged players to delete social media, erase public identities and burn their kits for safety's sake now that the country is again under the rule of the Taliban, who imposed strict limits on women's behaviour during their 1996-2001 rule.
Popal told Reuters in a video interview that the militants had killed, raped and stoned women in the past and female soccer players were afraid of what the future might hold.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.