LONDON: An investigation has found that a few of the women who were evacuated from Afghanistan to the UK may not have been the elite football players they claimed to be.


Two months after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, in November 2021, 35 women who had been part of the Afghan national women’s team and an additional 95 relatives fled to the UK.

It has since been discovered through a BBC investigation that as many as 13 players who claimed to be on the national team may have lied on their visa applications, which were all ultimately granted by the Home Office.

Players who claimed to be from the Herat youth team in Afghanistan have been accused of making these claims. Former coach Najibullah Nowroozi stated on the BBC show “Newsnight” that “I have seen people in the list (of evacuees) who have not even worn a football strip in Herat.”

Sabriah Nawrouzi, captain of the national team, claimed that while waiting to be evacuated from Pakistan, she finally met some of the people she had been told were her teammates.

Nawrouzi said, “because one team couldn’t play football,” she had to split the group into two when they arrived in the UK.

There is resentment among other professional female footballers who were unable to flee the country because some may have lied about their abilities to secure safe passage. The Taliban banned female participation in sport after it retook power in Afghanistan.

A female footballer who is still in Afghanistan and who spoke anonymously to the BBC said, “The Taliban have banned sports for women and girls. In Afghanistan, we have been abandoned and have no hope for the future. The fact that we, and not some of those who got evacuated, are the real players, makes me feel very neglected and sad.

A campaigner named Siu Anne Gill, whose Rokit Foundation helped with the evacuation, said that the Home Office had faith in the credentials provided by former Afghan national team player Khalida Popal.

“Khalida Popal personally had been including more names and more names and more names,” Gill said to the BBC. To which Khalida responded, “No, we didn’t check that they were footballers.” She agreed that “yes, they are definitely footballers.”

Popal, who is in charge of a group called Girl Power, issued a statement to the BBC in which she denied the allegations made against her. Any claim that I played a formal role in verifying and/or knowingly misleading anyone about the identities of those evacuated is false, and I have repeatedly provided extensive evidence and explanations for why this is so.

According to a statement released by the Home Office, the Taliban posed a threat to these women and girls because of their passion for football. Bringing the Afghan Girls Development Squad and their families to safety in the United Kingdom is something we can be proud of.

To that end, we conducted security checks and collaborated with a number of organizations that identified and referred the group to us,” the spokesperson elaborated. The Home Office will conduct an investigation if there is evidence that the information given was false.