As the World Focuses on Soccer, a Women’s Team in Exile Aches to Play

“We must address a message of hope that sports is possible for women when it is quite difficult or impossible now in Afghanistan,” Lappartient said. “I just want to give this idea that the light is still on.”

Without similar support from FIFA, the Afghan women’s soccer team is now looking for somewhere to play as an official national team. It’s considering joining the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, or Conifa, said Popal, the longtime Afghan women’s football program director. According to Conifa’s website, the organization “supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de facto nations, regions, minority people and sports isolated territories.”

But the level and depth of competition at Conifa is not what the Afghans have been used to at the FIFA level, where 187 women’s teams compete. In comparison, Conifa’s website listed only three women’s programs in its rankings from July: FA Sapmi (from the Indigenous Sami people who inhabit part of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia), Northern Cyprus and Tibet.

For the Afghan women, the goal is to return to play under FIFA’s umbrella. To get there, Popal, who lives in Denmark, has sent multiple emails to FIFA officials asking them for help reinstating the Afghan team. For months and months now, she has yet to receive an answer.

Last month, she also filed an official grievance with FIFA, writing, “All the coaches and players need to have their right to play respected and FIFA has the responsibility to guarantee our right to represent Afghanistan, even in exile.” At least a half dozen current and former players have also filed grievances, she said.

Again, no response.

“Men took away the players’ right to play football in Afghanistan, and now FIFA is taking away the right for the players to play football anywhere else,” Popal said. “I’m so frustrated that women have no voice. Why do the women of Afghanistan always have to pay the price?”