In rare interview, Afghan soccer star talks about being forced to give up her sport

When former Afghan soccer captain Khalida Popal was told by the Taliban regime in 1992 to stop playing soccer — or face the consequences — she never knew how long the violent religious group would control her life. Now, more than two decades later, Popal believes that the Taliban is losing power and in an interview with The New York Times, she called for continued pressure on the group.

“You have a political process where only one thing is allowed: arms. That is why [the Taliban] won so much power,” Popal said. “You have to put pressure on the Taliban as much as possible, and not only on the military level, but on the political level as well.”

Popal, who speaks perfect English and once praised her role as a mother and wife when she returned to her homeland, is widely recognized as one of the most successful soccer players in the history of her country, despite having to live under the government’s control. Her story is recounted in the book “Captive,” published by the International Women’s Media Foundation last year. And her husband, Shamshad Saifi, a U.S. citizen and the director of a start-up called the Cipher Group, is in charge of bringing world-class technology to Afghan women.

During her struggle, Popal, who believes in social justice and women’s rights, refused to attend school and only began playing soccer again when her eight-year-old son asked her why he couldn’t play soccer. After a long game, he took the winnings and shared it with Popal, and she began to think that her life might start to change.

I suffered a lot. I had to struggle a lot to get myself out of this situation. And my life has not returned to normal since my release. But one thing that I want to say is that in spite of all the problems I was going through, I never gave up hope.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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