FIFA Fever: How the Taliban stole joy from Afghan women

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Image of Parramatta Square at the Matildas versus Lionesses game || Photo by Ruby Ritchie.

Excitement, tension, and unbridled devotion filled Sydney’s streets with the recent Women’s FIFA World Cup. A testament to this can be found just outside our WSU Parramatta City Campus in Parramatta Square, where a giant screen was installed in anticipation of the games.

Hundreds of students and supporters tuned in and stopped by the giant screen, live- streaming the games every time, creating a spectacular emotional atmosphere.

I was lucky to witness this fantastic phenomenon firsthand. Alighting from the shuttle bus, I was welcomed by fans, families and students like me, drawn by the harmonious air abounding in spurs of cheers and applause.

Through this social contagion, I, who has never kept up with soccer world cups, felt the need to return to that giant screen repeatedly.

The addiction to the unity and connectedness people were showcasing for our Matildas and the realisation that strangers from all genders can rally behind Women’s sports restored my faith in humanity.

Indeed, this electrifying Women’s World Cup has seen a tremendous surge in interest, participation and funding, unleashing an inspiring shift in how we will perceive women in professional sports.

Following the World Cup, I was doing my habitual scrolling through social media to find Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaking out on the exclusion of the Afghan women’s team by FIFA.

Malala’s social media post featuring the Afghan team || Photo by Malala on @Malala Instagram page.

It was suggested that FIFA failed to recognise the team due to the Taliban authorities banning the sport for women, causing the Afghan team to flee to Australia to continue their passion for the sport safely with support from the Melbourne Victory sports club.

According to FIFA, they have no right to officially recognise a team unless the concerned Member Association first recognises it. However, Yousafzai discloses that these rules and regulations must be challenged, emphasising that the focus should be on the players’ rights and ability to play.

Over 160,000 people have signed a petition to forward this cause, urging FIFA to stand with the Women of Afghanistan and recognise their plight.

With the rise of the Taliban and the growing sense of hopelessness among Afghans worldwide, it is evident that soccer could play a vital role in cultivating excitement, unity, and escapism from the reality at home for many Afghans.

Captain and goalkeeper of the Afghan Women’s Team, Fatima Yousufi, highlights these sentiments to The UN Refugee Agency.

“Playing soccer is magical for me. It’s like a medicine that heals wounds of war and personal trauma. Especially when I’m on the field, I feel safe. I’m trying to forget all those scenes and all the things I’ve been through,” says Yousufi.

The same thrilling sensations, vibrant atmosphere and incredible show of collective solidarity I and many Australians have felt united by Matildas is sadly being deprived of another nation that needs it.

By shedding light on this issue and understanding the struggles of the Afghan team and many other women who have had their dreams stolen from them by war, discrimination, and instability – we can start to envision a more hopeful future for all.

Maya Salim

Hi there! I am currently studying psychology. I chose this because I revel in uncovering…

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