Afghan women’s volleyball players speak of threats and intimidation

Zahra Fayazi came to the UK about a month ago after fleeing Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s women’s volleyball team is hiding from the Taliban and one of its members was killed last month, two former members of the team told the BBC.

Nearly a dozen players are hoping to flee Afghanistan, saying they fear for their lives.

The group, which regained control of Afghanistan last month, is moving through several provinces to avoid identifying the Taliban.

Zahra Fayazi arrived in the UK about a month ago after fleeing. She played for the Afghan women’s volleyball team for seven years before stepping into coaching.

Zahra told the BBC that one of the squad members had been killed, but said the details were not clear now.

“We don’t want that to happen again for our other players,” he said.

Zahra is still in contact with her former teammates, many of whom continue to be.

“Our players had to leave the province and live elsewhere,” he said.

“They even burned their sports equipment to save themselves and their families. They didn’t want to keep anything related to sports. They were scared.”

“Many of our players who came from the province have been repeatedly threatened by relatives of the Taliban and their followers.

“The Taliban have told the families of our players not to let their daughters play sports, otherwise they will face unpredictable violence.”

Zahra Fayazi
Zahra has played for the national team for seven years

Sophia, who is using a pseudonym to protect her family in Afghanistan, was a key member of the volleyball team, but fled to a neighboring country after being stabbed by two men in Kabul two years ago.

He said he had previously received threats from the Taliban warning to stop playing volleyball.

Sophia’s family couldn’t destroy any medals and kits, when she couldn’t escape when she ran away when she feared it might target them if they fell into the wrong hands.

Sophia is in regular contact with her former teammates. He added that one person had been shot dead last month, although details of the killing were unclear.

“I’m sure it was the Taliban,” Sophia said. “At that time the Taliban had crossed all the cities and there was no other group that would do it.

“We’re all shocked at how it happened. We couldn’t believe it. Maybe we’ll lose other friends.”

Volleyball is one of the most popular sports in Afghanistan.

The first women’s national party was formed nearly four decades ago but broke up in 1996 when the Taliban ruled for five years.

But the Taliban regained control of the country in mid-August when the lives of female athletes in Afghanistan were disrupted.

The Taliban have not yet passed any legislation on sports and women, but Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, recently told SBS Radio Pashto that it was “not necessary” for women to play sports.

Last week, female players from the junior national football team crossed the border into Pakistan after weeks of hiding from the Taliban.

Earlier this month, members of the women’s cricket team told the BBC they were in hiding for fear of their lives.

Meanwhile, The Taliban have excluded girls from Afghan secondary schools, Only boys and male teachers are allowed to return to the classroom.

Zahra and Sophia called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) to help the volleyball team escape before it was too late.

An IOC spokesman said it was “helping many players and women and sports administrators in Afghanistan”.

“For obvious reasons we will not comment on any individual cases, especially those that are currently being dealt with,” he said.

A spokesman for FIVB said: “Helping someone from the Afghan volleyball family is very sensitive and to show respect for the privacy and security of all involved, no further details will be given.”

Female Afghan prisoners play volleyball at a prison in the eastern Afghan city of Herat July 2, 2010
Volleyball is popular in Afghanistan, even played in prisons

Zahra and Sophia both hope to one day be reunited with their teammates on a volleyball court, but nothing like that will happen in Afghanistan.

“We have fallen into a dark age,” Zahra said.

“I don’t see the future of volleyball in Afghanistan. Hopefully, if we can help remove them, there is a possibility of having the same team outside Afghanistan.”

Sophia said: “We lost everything in one day, but we want to move on.

“We want the world to help us achieve the goals and aspirations we have worked for. It’s our dream, we can’t give up.”

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