An investigation has revealed that a third of the Afghanistan women’s football team players granted asylum in the UK had never played the sport.
The women, aged between 13 and 19, were flown to safety in the UK along with their families from Pakistan in November 2021, following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.
The UK Home Office granted them visas as they were considered at increased risk from the Taliban, who view women’s sports as un-Islamic.
The BBC’s Newsnight conducted an investigation and identified 13 individuals who were not part of the team, despite being granted asylum.
Najibullah Nowroozi, coach of the Herat Youth Team, where most of the players claimed to be registered, confirmed that some players on the list had never played football.
This has sparked outrage from individuals in Afghanistan, as some genuine players who were not evacuated are now living under Taliban rule, where women’s sports are banned.
The investigation also found that the Home Office had failed to check the identity of the women and relied on the names provided by one player, Khalida Popal.
A charity worker who helped organise the flight to the UK claimed that Popal had included more and more names, some of which were not footballers.
Popal denied any wrongdoing and provided extensive evidence and explanations about the identities of those evacuated.
The Mail on Sunday also conducted its own investigation and found that members of the national team squad were left behind to make way for friends of senior players.
The criticism has been levelled at Popal, but she has denied any accusation that she knowingly included women who were not footballers.
The Home Office spokesperson confirmed that they would investigate if evidence showed that the information provided was incorrect.