Afghan native Sajia Sahar learned to play soccer (or football, as it’s more widely known) in neighboring Pakistan. She had a good teacher. Her father was a star on the Afghan men’s national team before the Taliban effectively outlawed the sport from 1996 until US-led forces ousted it from power in 2001.
When she returned to Afghanistan, Sahar decided to form a women’s soccer club. It hasn’t been easy.
“When I started playing football, I had many problems,” said Sahar in a recent BBC interview. “I also received many phone calls. People were telling me, ‘You’re a girl. You should stay home and study. You’re not allowed to join the team and play football.’”
Sahar ignored the naysayers. Ever since, the sport has been growing by leaps and bounds. “In Afghanistan, we have more than 500 girls playing football, and more than 20 clubs,” she said. “That’s a good first step for beginning sports in Afghanistan for women.”
Last month, the Afghan women’s national team, with Sahar as captain, took third place in the South Asian Football Federation tournament. During the competition, they beat their arch-rivals Pakistan 4 to 1.