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BBC attacked for calling female Afghan footballers who fled Taliban ‘false’

Afghanistan women footballers BBC Newsnight report - Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
Afghanistan women footballers BBC Newsnight report - Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

The BBC is under fire for shaming “false footballers” who escaped from Kabul amid the chaos of the Taliban takeover.

Thirty-five women and their families, 130 people in total, flew from Pakistan to the UK in November 2021 in a rescue mission personally championed by Priti Patel, the home secretary at that time.

The footballers had been deemed at risk of Taliban reprisals because of their participation in the sport.

However, Newsnight has claimed that among the list of evacuees submitted to authorities in order to enter the UK are people who did not play for the teams they named.

The BBC identified 13 players thought to have falsified their applications following a series of interviews with a number of former Afghan players, coaches and officials.

Newsnight’s claims have been condemned by players of the Herat Youth Team, who say their family’s lives are now “at risk”.

Sahar Chamran, a player named explicitly in the article, tweeted:

In a video posted to Twitter, player Mozhdah Howaida added that when she was approached by a BBC reporter, she “thought it was a joke”.

“I came here all alone. I lost my family, my friends, my old ones behind to pursue my education to just play the game which I love,” she said.

Ms Howaida added that she is still dealing with “trauma and nightmares every single night”.

Players have also criticised Newsnight’s decision to use as evidence interviews with Najibullah Nowroozi, the team’s former coach who now works in women’s football in Italy.

Mr Nowroozi told Newsnight that he has “seen people in the list who have not even worn a football strip in Herat”.

He questioned whether the players had ever been to the Herat football ground, let alone play for Afghanistan’s national team.

Zeynab Mozaffri, another player, also tweeted:

According to Newsnight, players remaining in Afghanistan have expressed resentment at the evacuations.

One anonymous player told Newsnight: “The Taliban have banned sports for women and girls… We are left behind in Afghanistan with no future. It just makes me feel very neglected and very sad because we are the real players and not some of those that got evacuated.”

Just three players responded to the BBC when approached for a comment, all of them insisting they were footballers. Two of the women said they never claimed to be part of the national team.

A Home Office spokesman said: “We worked with a number of organisations who identified and referred the group to us, undertaking security checks as part of the process.

“Should there be evidence that the information provided was incorrect, the Home Office will investigate.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We were initially contacted by the former women footballers still in Afghanistan who were unhappy they had been left behind and who had seen others claiming to be top-tier sportspeople granted refugee status. We investigated their claims.

“The BBC has taken care not to identify anyone who hasn’t been previously been identified in other media but we will always carefully consider representations from those involved in stories.”