A Goal For Freedom – Women’s Football In Kabul: The Fight Continues

by Muslim Pro

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A chance encounter that led to an even bigger dream of great importance with reverberating repercussions beyond the football field. This documentary follows the struggles of Madina Azizi as she faces continual discrimination and hostility rooted in gender biases. One woman’s struggle and courage to change the course of women’s football in Afghanistan. A star in her own right.

It’s A Man’s, Man’s World, Still

A still from A Goal For Freedom – Women’s Football In Kabul, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

Madina Azizi. A top scorer and coach of the Afghanistan women’s national football team. Awarded over 30 honorary certificates for her excellence. Still, all of it did not guarantee widespread support and the right type of attention for such talent to continue to thrive and flourish.

Instead, in the blink of an eye, it was all snatched away cruelly from her. Not for a lack of ambition. And, certainly not for any (perceived or otherwise) lack of talent and dedication, which she has in spades. Instead, it was the fear of Afghan women’s collective advancement, unlimited to the sports arena. She was spat out of the national team along with her friend Masumah and eight others.

“Many men in my country won’t accept strong women. … In their eyes, I was a threat. So, they wanted to stop me and my work. … They’re afraid their own daughters might do the same. … I had to flee in the dead of the night because my life was in danger.”

Khalida Popal, the very first captain of Afghanistan women’s national football team, in 2008. She is Madina’s role model and avid supporter. Having to flee overseas for fear of her safety, her bitter experiences in 2011 served as a predictor for Madina and many other women footballers’ future in Afghanistan.

Though the real reason was not divulged, Madina suspected that her rejection of sexual advances and harassment had a part to play. In all likelihood, a cover up operation and aggressors’ retaliation all rolled into one. The official justification handed out was for missing training sessions.

The truths remain buried.

“Every time I leave my house, fear is my companion.”

Madina Azizi fears for her safety albeit she is not the only target as her family’s safety is at stake, too.

Still, such anxieties stemming from verbal abuse and death threats from dissenting voices were nothing new to her. Madina recalled how her grades suffered in school when certain teachers found out about her involvement in football. It was a clear message that they wanted her to stop and fall in line with traditional societal conventions and norms that placed girls and women at a disadvantage. The oft-repeated excuse being cited that football, or any sports for that matter, had never been and would never be a women’s game.

A still from A Goal For Freedom – Women’s Football In Kabul, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

“It wasn’t important what others thought of me.”

Madina staying true to herself despite constant stream of negativity and judgment that kept rearing their ugly heads.

The naysayers had only successfully emboldened her spirit. Instead of drowning in sorrow and tears, Madina bravely fought for her passion; and years later, she had once again needed to stay focus and shifted gears.

Fight For Freedom Via The Football Field

“There are a thousand reasons and just as many excuses. I’ll just keep trying.”

Madina on having to call at least 10 schools to arrange for one friendly match for the women’s football team. Even then, the chances of it happening remain extremely low.

A still from A Goal For Freedom – Women’s Football In Kabul, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

She started to channel her focus and energy into coaching. Her resilience was carefully magnified, compounded and expertly manoeuvred through public appearances on television shows and posting on her Facebook account. The reason was simple: To build support for women’s football in Afghanistan by staying visible and talking about it.

Being an athletics lecturer in Kabul University then helped her cause too, as she was able to train young talents in a safe space. However, it had never been easy. The hurdles kept appearing. From severe lack of opportunities due to cancelled friendly games, competitions, practice matches between female teams to continued hostilities from those who refused to recognise ability and passion of young Afghan women for football.

“If I don’t try, who will?”

Madina’s steely resolve to keep fighting the good fight.

Madina’s football excellence and never-say-die attitude have served as an inspiration for women in her immediate community and have been inspiring others, beyond Afghanistan. Ironically, albeit Madina has inspired and sparked seedlings of football aspirations in girls and young women the world over, such opportunities remain scarce and seem elusive for talented Afghan women, such as Madina Azizi and her compatriots. A cruel twist of fate, indeed.

A still from A Goal For Freedom – Women’s Football In Kabul, which is available to stream on Qalbox.

An update on the Afghanistan women’s national football team following A Goal For Freedom – Women’s Football In Kabul, which was released in 2019: Due to the geopolitical developments in the region and Afghanistan, many had or chosen to flee the country in August 2021. Madina Azizi had to escape to Europe whereas the bulk of the team had to flee their homeland and are currently playing football in exile, in Australia. They still harbour hope that they would be able to represent Afghanistan internationally, in the future.