SOCCER

Kim Kardashian West pays for Afghan women soccer players to fly to Britain

Women playing sports was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban, and hundreds of female athletes have left Afghanistan.

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Kim Kardashian West pays for Afghan women soccer players to fly to Britain
KARIM JAAFAR AFP

The Afghanistan women's youth development soccer team arrived in Britain early Thursday after being flown from Pakistan with the help of a New York rabbi, Kim Kardashian West and Premier League club Leeds United.

A plane carrying more than 30 teenage players and their families arrived at Stansted Airport near London for the beginning of a new start in their lives. The players and their families, approximately 130 people in all, will spend 10 days in coronavirus quarantine before starting their new adventure in Britain.

Leeds United offers support

Leeds United has offered to support the players. The club's majority owner, Andrea Radrizzani, posted a photo of Afghan team members arriving at Stansted airport. "Proud to be part of the team to make this real," Radrizzani tweeted.

Britain and other countries evacuated thousands of Afghans as Kabul fell to Taliban militants in August. Women playing sports was seen as a political act of defiance against the Taliban, and hundreds of female athletes have left Afghanistan since the group began curbing women's freedoms.

Popal "so relieved"

Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan's national women's team who has spearheaded evacuation efforts for female athletes, said she felt "so happy and so relieved" that the girls and women were out of danger.

"Many of those families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were burnt down," Popal told the Associated Press. "Some of their family members were killed or taken by Taliban. So the danger and the stress was very high, and that's why it was very important to move fast to get them outside Afghanistan."

Australia evacuates Afghanistan's women's team

Australia evacuated the members of Afghanistan's national women's soccer team, and the youth girls' team was resettled in Portugal.

Many members of the development team come from poor families in the country's provinces. They managed to reach Pakistan and were eventually able to secure UK visas. They were then, however, left in limbo for weeks and had no flight out of the country as the time limit on their Pakistani visas was running out. The team managed to get help from the Tzedek Association, a nonprofit US group that previously helped the last known member of Kabul's Jewish community leave Afghanistan.

Kardashian pays for flights to UK

The group's founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, has worked with reality TV star and entrepreneur Kim Kardashian West on criminal justice reform in the US. He reached out to her to help pay for a chartered plane to the UK.

"Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wants to fund the entire flight," Margaretten said.

"I pray others will learn from your generosity & help high-risk Afghans at risk," Margaretten tweeted. Kardashian West's spokeswoman later confirmed that the star and her brand SKIMs had chartered the flight.

Read AS USA's full interview with Khalida Popal