Afghan Women Make Their Mark On The Soccer Field The women's soccer team in Afghanistan isn't an international powerhouse. But their mere existence is a triumph and points to the growing number of Afghan women playing sports. And they're getting a little help from an American soccer star.
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Afghan Women Make Their Mark On The Soccer Field

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Afghan Women Make Their Mark On The Soccer Field

Afghan Women Make Their Mark On The Soccer Field

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Afghanistan formed its first ever women's national soccer team five years ago. The team has faced obstacles in a society where many believe women should not have a public role. And that's meant most of the players remain far from World Cup caliber. Last week they got a little help from a former member of the American Women's National Team. Lorrie Fair, who's now a State Department sports envoy, came to Kabul to run a clinic for the Afghan women.

NPR's Sean Carberry tagged along and sent us this postcard.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Clad in her U.S. National Team sweatsuit, Lorrie Fair leads the Afghan women through a series of exercises on the tennis court at the U.S. embassy.

LORRIE FAIR: I'm constantly inspired by the things they do, because we're very lucky in the United States to have support for women's sport. We can't even grasp what they're going through. They're fighting an uphill battle.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Keep it up in here...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

FAIR: Each of them has their own story. Some, you know, pretended to be boys when they were kids so that they could play. Others just kind of got together secretly. I mean there are so many stories. Each person has their individual story. What they do have in common is that they do have a love for the game.

CARBERRY: Nineteen-year-old Hadissa Wali has loved the game since she started playing in fourth grade.

HADISSA WALI: It was challenging as we practiced in school. And the level was really low and we weren't able to practice well with the coaches that we had.

It's quite important for me to play in the World Cup. I just want to play as a world player like Alex Morgan. I'm really a fan of her playing in the U.S. And also some other players in the world. That's my dream, to be like those players, not that famous, but just to play like them.

I also want to go and continue my studies and also my soccer, to be a good soccer player. And also a good lawyer or maybe judge in the future.

CARBERRY: The team captain is Zahra Mahmoudi, who was born and raised in Iran. Her family returned to Afghanistan in 2004, and she taught the girls in her neighborhood how to play.

ZAHRA MAHMOUDI: It's no matter for us, that if we will lose the game, it's not important for us. The matter is that being a team and existing, because being a soccer player in Afghanistan itself is a fight against, you know, Taliban and all the people that don't want females to be in society or work or to study.

CARBERRY: Zahra says her family supports her but worries for her safety.

MAHMOUDI: It's very difficult. And also some of my friends, even they are females and they say that, please don't play soccer, it's for boys. Because, you know, they have traditional minds.

CARBERRY: Still, she's hopeful about the future.

MAHMOUDI: I'm studying coaching football now. And I hope that in the future I can become a football coach, because it's very essential for Afghan culture that a woman teach girls.

CARBERRY: At the end of the clinic, Lorrie Fair says that the Afghan women taught her more than she taught them.

FAIR: I can say that I'm definitely impressed, you know, when they came out here. They're just skilled, they're passionate. They're pretty courageous to even be here. If this country has a future, it's going to be in these women here because they were pretty amazing.

CARBERRY: Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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