An Afghan refugee women’s team is training to compete in its first national season of Australian rules football in Melbourne.
The athletes have reunited after fleeing Kabul last August.
Melbourne Victory is helping players prepare for their first matches in March.
“We’re on top of a lot of work that’s been done over the last couple of months,” said Victory director of football John Didulica.
“It’s what they really want to do to make their mark globally, to assert their independence through participation in football.
“That has not been easy because they have family in Afghanistan and they fear for the fate of those family members.
The quality of the equipment is being evaluated; Victoria is likely to enter the team in a state league division two or three competition.
“It’s wonderful,” goalkeeper Fati said (the players asked ABC Sport to use their nicknames to protect their privacy).
“We have the most important thing for all of us: we have security, we have sports, we don’t have our families, but at least we have what we didn’t have in Afghanistan.
“My teammates, including myself, we are all forgetting everything.
“Being in the field, it’s like everything is new. We’re thinking about the future. We’re all building our houses. We’re all together now, and one day we’ll be with our families too, and that’s the hope.”
Another player, Moslih, said it was a relief to be back in training.
“Actually, after six months, it’s an amazing feeling and I can’t explain it,” he said.
“My teammate is a sign of my country and when I play with my teammates it feels like I’m playing for my country.”
The newcomers were greeted at a training session this week by A-League stars Catherine Zimmerman and Alex Chidiac.
“I feel very proud to be part of a club that strives to help these players,” Chidiac said.
“To be able to come to Australia and feel welcome and be able to play the sport they love.
“It’s really special. And it makes us, as professionals, take a step back and think how grateful we are to be able to play the game we love every day. To see their determination to get back on the court after everything they’ve done.” past, and, you know, you also see the drive, it’s just amazing.
It will be difficult to put together a full match schedule within an established competition because players have been resettled in suburbs all over the city, from north Sunshine to south-east Dandenong.
But Victory and Football Victoria say they will help make it happen.
“They are trying to find permanent homes, they are trying to get an education, they are trying to find employment.
“There is a whole range of challenges that they have to deal with in the coming months. They have their freedom, for lack of a better term, and now they are looking to integrate into Australian life.”
“There are a lot of parallels, from my perspective, with a lot of the migrant cultures that came to Australia after World War II, where they used sport, football, to go on that journey of understanding what it means to be Australian.” .
Not all the best players from Afghanistan came to Australia.
“There are a number of cohorts spread across the world, in England, across Europe, here in Australia, and they want to claim the title of the Afghan women’s national team. That has been taken away from them.
“There is a lot of lobbying from FIFA and others to get that status, but this is the first step in what could be a long journey for them.”
The football community, including former Afghanistan captain Khalida Popal and former footballer Craig Foster, helped rescue the Kabul footballers last August.
The Australian Government gave humanitarian protection to dozens of athletes.
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