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Sunday, 30 September 2007
BEATING the Taliban
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This is a Sunday Mirror exclusive about a little known aspect of today’s Afghanistan, the growing popularity of women’s football.
At the same stadium where young girls were executed for wearing a little make-up & high heels, Afghanistan's first women's football team is at last able to play the beautiful game.
Covered from head-to-toe in a burqa, Zarmena was ordered to kneel down on the penalty spot of Kabul Olympic Football Stadium.
The mother-of-five was then shot dead by a soldier - one of hundreds of women executed or brutally beaten by the Taliban as a barbaric form of pre-match entertainment for "crimes" such as wearing high heels or makeup in public.
Now the only girls' cries that echo round the infamous stadium are from members of the country's first national women's football team shouting for the ball.
It is a move no Afghan woman thought she would live to see. Until the fall of the Taliban women were not allowed to hold down a job or even go to school - let alone play sport.
Just showing their face in public would result in a savage beating from Taliban religious police.
Shamila (pic:getty)Captain and centre-forward Shamila Kohestani recalls how she was beaten by soldiers for stepping outside her home without a full burqa - a sheet covering her entire body with just a thin gauze panel over her eyes to see through. She was just 12 years old.
Shamila, now 19, says: "One day I went out to the shops with my mother. She was wearing a burqa but I was just in a headscarf.  As we walked out of our home, two Taliban soldiers grabbed me and started hitting me with sticks. They beat me and beat me until I managed to get free and run home. After that, I said I was never going out again and I prayed and prayed the Taliban would leave. Two months later they were driven out of Kabul and my mother said, 'God heard your prayer'."
Despite their attitude to sport - innocent children's games like kite-flying were also illegal because they were seen as a distraction from prayer - the Taliban made an exception when it came to men's football.
The games held at the Olympic Stadium drew crowds of up to 30,000.
Women's coach Abdulsaboor Walizada, a former player with the national men's side, recalls how the executions took place as he and his team-mates warmed up before matches. He says: "The day they carried out most executions was on a Friday as that is a day off in Afghanistan. Men and women would be led out to the penalty spot and shot just before the game began. I frequently saw executions and I'm sad to say it became a way of life at the stadium.
Bouncing a ball near the penalty spot, defender Yasamin Rasoul, 17, says: "We're changing what the stadium was made for and we're seeing more and more women's teams starting up. I want to encourage more girls to play to give us a right to play in the same way the men have a right to play. We hope to be in the World Cup next time round."
On the pitch, the girls wear jogging bottoms and long-sleeved shirts. Some wear Islamic headscarves or a cap but most leave it off.  Shamila says ". . . now I often play football without even a headscarf. I wear it sometimes and it gets in my way so I always end up throwing it off. This is the freedom we have craved for so long. I want to be a football coach some day".
Squad member Roia Noorahmat, 15, says: "Playing football or going to school or listening to pop music was something we never dreamed we could do during the Taliban. My mother still wears a burqa but she doesn't tell me to. She wants me to be a champion footballer and although my father doesn't like it, he has never said I must stop."
While they enjoy a certain amount of freedom, the women's team still has to fight for time on the pitch and is forced to practise in the hottest part of the day so the men can play at dusk.
Looking down from the stands as the men play, Shamila says: "We've fought hard for the right to play football. We're not going to give up just because some men don't think we should be doing it. When we play, we're not just trying to defeat the other team, we play for the women like Zarmena who were killed here and because we want to beat all those old ideas that women are worthless." 
If the Taliban come to power again, under their recently announced constitution this will end.
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Posted on 09/30/2007 4:39 AM by Esmerelda Weatherwax
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