FIFA President Gianni Infantino has called on the global football community and governments worldwide to offer support in face of the escalating refugee and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
President Infantino was speaking during a visit to the compound in Doha at which the State of Qatar, in collaboration with FIFA and the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF), has housed over 150 Afghan refugees who were in critical danger due to their links to women’s sport.
Qatar has evacuated over 70,000 people from Afghanistan since August, and the FIFA President was keen to express his appreciation for the Gulf state for those efforts. In addition, he thanked the Albanian government led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, which has agreed to take in and house the first group of evacuees, to provide football players and their families with temporary settlement and to help FIFA to evacuate many more.
“Qatar in particular and His Highness the Amir, they have to be thanked,” President Infantino said. “These girls and their families are here in a safe environment, at a compound built for the FIFA World Cup next year.”
“The first one who jumped in was Prime Minister Edi Rama from Albania; I want to thank him as well. But we need more countries, we need more governments, we need more football family members to help – not just to talk about solidarity or to talk about helping but to do it with real action,” he continued.
“We will continue to knock on all the doors around the world, and we hope that some will listen and hear this plea, this call for help, and will open the doors to these girls, who all have an amazing life story to tell.”
Among the evacuees staying at the compound are players from the senior, U-23, U-17, and U-15 Afghan women’s teams, together with their family members. There are also female match officials, administrators, and women’s football coaches within the group.
AFF General Secretary Fazil Mohammad Shahab – who was heavily involved in promoting and developing women’s football across the country – is also among the evacuees at the camp. Lawyers who worked on the Keramuudin Karim abuse case, which resulted in a lifetime ban from football for the former AFF President, were also evacuated for their own safety, along with family members.
In addition to those connected to football, FIFA also assisted the Afghanistan National Basketball Federation and the organisation Equality League with the evacuation of over 30 women associated with female basketball in Afghanistan, including 19 members of the women’s national and regional teams, all of whom are now also safely at the compound in Doha.
“We all often say that football gives hope,” said the FIFA President. “This is real life and to be able to give real hope to these girls and to their families, to enable them to build a new life, is something that you cannot explain in words. It is very emotional to be here. I am very, very happy that we have been able to help many football players, many girls to get out of Afghanistan and there is more to come.”
FIFA intends to bring more girls, women, and others associated with women’s sport safely out of the country over the coming weeks with Qatar’s help.
Joyce Cook, the FIFA Chief Social Responsibility & Education Officer, has led the operation for the past two months. Speaking from Doha, she added her own words of admiration for all those involved and praised the strength of character shown by the brave young women and girls.
She said: “I was asked to lead our efforts by our President and our Secretary-General. It’s been an incredible team effort and we could not have done it without our friends and colleagues in Qatar. We have achieved a lot, but we have so much more still to do and so many more to bring.”
“I think any human being that gets this close to the tragedy – to meet the girls, to hear their stories; stories of heartbreak and loss, but also stories of exceptional strength and determination – cannot help but feel an immense responsibility,” she continued.
“This is a human story, a human effort with people everywhere that care deeply about these courageous young women and girls. Their journey is only just beginning – this story is not over – and I take this opportunity to reiterate what the FIFA President has said: we cannot do it alone. We now need governments around the world to come forward and offer our players permanent settlement and the chance to rebuild their young lives.”
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