The players in Afghanistan's women's youth development team were among hundreds of female athletes that have left the country since the Taliban took over and started curbing women's freedoms
Friday 19 November 2021 16:18, UK
Kim Kardashian and Leeds United have helped an Afghan junior women's football team arrive in the UK after fleeing the Taliban.
The social media influencer paid for a flight that brought more than 30 teenage girls and their families - about 130 people in all - to Britain.
The players in Afghanistan's women's youth development team were among hundreds of female athletes that have left the country since the Taliban took over and started curbing women's freedoms.
"The Afghan female footballers are well-known figures in the country," said Khalida Popal, a former captain of Afghanistan's national women's team who has led evacuation efforts for female athletes.
"Their lives were in great danger because of people in the country who opposed their activism and wanted to stop their sport and educational activities."
Some of the girls were beaten, had their houses burnt down and had family members "taken" by the Taliban, she and the players said.
Narges, one of the players, previously told Sky News: "The Taliban were violent. They threatened us that: 'We don't know who you are but if you cannot pass the border we will kill all of you here'."
The girls had made it to Pakistan but needed help getting to Britain.
When they received their visas to the UK, teammates Narges and Sabria said: "Our lives have been saved and we are eternally grateful to all."
Leeds United has offered to support the players, many of whom come from poor families in the country's provinces.
Tzedek Association, a non-profit US group that previously helped the last known member of Kabul's Jewish community leave Afghanistan, stepped in to organise the flight.
The group's founder, Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, got in touch with Ms Kardashian, having worked with her on criminal justice reform in the US.
"Maybe an hour later, after the Zoom call, I got a text message that Kim wants to fund the entire flight," Mr Margaretten said.
Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani said: "When I received a call asking (for) help to rescue the youth women's team from Afghanistan, I didn't know even from where to start.
He said he was "proud to be part of the team to make this real," adding, "let's dream one day they will play in Leeds United."
Radrizzani tweeted on Thursday: "We are delighted the Afghan Women and Girls Development Football Team and their families led by the brave former captain Khalida Popal have landed safely in the UK, following extensive efforts by a number of partners.
"We are honoured to have played our part and are grateful that the UK government has enabled their resettlement in the UK.
"This demonstrates the power of football, and sport in general, as a force for good and shows how the football community is able to collaborate and mobilise to save lives.
"Through Play for Change Charitable Trust and Leeds United we stand ready to support the girls and their families in building an inclusive and prosperous future. We can't wait to see them playing football again."
A spokesperson for Ms Kardashian told Sky News the star and her brand SKIMS chartered the flight.