Activists Call to Recognize the Afghanistan Women’s Soccer Team at the 2023 World Cup


On January 5th, 2023, women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai and member of Afghanistan’s Women’s National soccer team, Khalida Popal, published an article in The Guardian calling FIFA to utilize its power to “send a message to the Taliban”-an extremist, fundamentalist political movement in Afghanistan that regained control in 2021-by recognizing the Afghan Women’s National team.
The protest comes as a response to the discontinuation of the Afghan Women’s National soccer team as a part of the Taliban’s ban on allowing women to participate in sports.
The two activists claim that FIFA can “serve as a check on discrimination against women and defend equality for female athletes.” FIFA’s code of ethics claims that the organization “strives to promote the protection” of human rights. According to the activists, this includes the organization stating, “Women belong at work, in the classroom and on the football pitch.” They also state that Afghan women “know what [recognizing Afghanistan’s Women’s team] means to Afghan girls and women living under the Taliban’s oppression” and that they understand the role FIFA can play in recognizing their oppression and their team.
Currently, the team resides in Australia (a host nation of the 2023 WWC), working to stay together despite personal struggles. They missed qualification rounds that began last September but are still determined to play “among the world’s best again.”
However, without formal recognition from FIFA, the team cannot receive funding to support themselves and their staff and cannot perform in professional matches. According to the article, the team has filed multiple reports with FIFA, claiming breaches of the organization’s code of ethics and that the organization should allow women to play in exile.
FIFA has commented on the status of the Women’s Afghanistan team claiming, “The selection of players and teams…is considered an internal affair of the member association.” Meaning that “FIFA does not have the right to officially recognize any team unless it is first recognized by the concerned member association.” FIFA’s President also commented on the situation, explaining that people need a place to watch matches and not “think about this.”
Responses from the media have showcased support and opposition to the team participating in the World Cup. Hadara Collazo, a Freshman soccer player, believes FIFA should “let them play because the team worked hard” and that FIFA should take a moral stance and make an exception to its qualification rules. Hadara stated that the recognition of the team can bring awareness to the “oppressive system of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.”
Mr. Cornell, a high school English teacher, and soccer fan, stated, ” I would like them to recognize the Afghan Women’s National Team.”
He also noted that he can “see where [FIFA] say[s] they’re a little hamstrung because they’re trying to respect the nations and the cultures.” He further elaborated, stating, “If they’re going to be strict with their rules about that, then they ought to be strict with their rules about all sorts of things and not allow countries with human rights abuses to participate.” Cornell doesn’t believe that the recognition of the Afghan team will affect the Taliban’s rules but believes that it “could elevate people’s awareness of the situation.”
FIFA reported that they’re “closely following the situation of the Afghan Football community within the country and abroad,” however, the future of the Afghan soccer team is unexpected. They will unlikely be allowed to participate in the 2023 Women’s World Cup.