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HomeSportsThere were 'false' footballers on the evacuating Afghan women's team.

There were ‘false’ footballers on the evacuating Afghan women’s team.

A high-profile evacuation to the United Kingdom of Afghan female footballers fleeing the Taliban included several women who were not top-tier players as asserted.

In November 2021, thirty-five women and their families, totaling 130 individuals, were flown from Pakistan to the United Kingdom.

Some feared the Taliban would discipline female footballers for playing a sport deemed un-Islamic by the new government.

The Home Office granted visas to them. Nonetheless, Newsnight has access to the manifest of evacuees submitted to British authorities to gain entry into the United Kingdom.

There were 'false' footballers on the evacuating afghan women's team.
There were 'false' footballers on the evacuating afghan women's team.

Although the names and other identifying information are authentic, the description of the principal applicants as national athletes or members of regional teams appears to be false in some instances.

According to former Afghan players, coaches, and officials, thirteen individuals were not members of the teams specified.

Many of the migrants were described as Herat Youth Team members. However, Newsnight was able to locate the team’s erstwhile coach, Najibullah Nowroozi, who currently works in women’s football in Italy.

When he saw the list of evacuated individuals. He pondered if any of them had ever visited the Herat football stadium, let alone played for the national team. “On the list are individuals who have not even worn a football shirt in Herat.”

Genuine participants living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan resent the fact that others appear to have escaped with fake credentials.

One individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells Newsnight, “The Taliban has banned sports for women and girls… we are left behind in Afghanistan with no future.” We are the true players, not some of those who were evacuated, which makes me feel very neglected and sad.

Sabriah Nawrouzi is a former commander of the Herat Youth Team, along with Narges Mayeli, Sahar Chamran, and Fatemah Baratean, who were all evacuated.

She currently plays football in northern England. While staying in a Pakistani hotel en route to the United Kingdom, she claims to have encountered some women who claimed to be part of her team for the first time.

Ms. Nawrouzi split the evacuees into two teams in England because “one team couldn’t play football.”

After Kabul fell, home minister Priti Patel led the football evacuation.

The Home Office stated that the move demonstrated the United Kingdom’s commitment to assisting at-risk Afghans to resettle in the United Kingdom: “Their passion for football placed these women and girls in danger from the Taliban. We’re glad the Afghan Girls Development Squad and their families are in UK safety.”

Siu Anne Gill managed the Rokit Foundation, which was responsible for transporting the footballers to the United Kingdom. She claims that the Home Office neglected to verify the credentials of the female footballers on the flight, instead relying on the names provided by Khalida Popal, a former Afghan international player and activist.

Ms. Gill stated, “Khalida Popal had been personally including more and more and more names.” We inquired of Khalida, “Did you verify that these are football players?” She responded, “They are undoubtedly footballers.”

Ms. Popal is the director of Girl Power, a non-profit organization that aims to empower women through sports. She claims she did not knowingly assist non-footballers in claiming asylum through the program. And she informed us that the Rokit Foundation had removed and added to the list.

Rokit acknowledges that they added some names to the list and that they and Ms. Popal consented to this.

In a statement to Newsnight, Ms. Popal stated, “I categorically deny the allegations made against me. I have repeatedly provided extensive evidence and explanations as to why any suggestion that I played a formal role in the verification process and/or intentionally misled anyone about the identities of those evacuated is false.

Home Office spokesman: “We worked with several organizations that identified and referred the group to us. As part of the process, we conducted security checks.” If there is evidence that the provided information is inaccurate, the Home Office will investigate.”

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