Afghanistan's female volleyball players tell of threats and fear

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Zahra Fayazi, a refugee from Afghanistan, arrived in the UK a month ago.

Two former members of Afghanistan's women's volleyball team told BBC that one of their players is hiding from Taliban fighters and that another was killed last month.

Nearly 30 players hope to flee Afghanistan. They fear for their lives.

To avoid detection by the Taliban who retook Afghanistan's control last month, some of the team members have been moving around between provinces.

After fleeing Afghanistan, Zahra Fayazi arrived to the UK a month ago. Before becoming a coach, she played seven years for the Afghan women's volleyball team.

Zahra said that one member of the squad was dead, but the details are not clear at the moment.

She stated, "We don’t want this to happen again for our other players."

Zahra keeps in touch with many of her former teammates, many of which are still on the move.

She said, "Our players who lived in the provinces had no choice but to move and live elsewhere."

They even destroyed their sporting equipment in order to save their lives and their families. They did not want them to have any sport equipment. They are afraid.

"Many of our provincial players were repeatedly threatened by Taliban and Taliban supporters."

"The Taliban requested that our players' families not allow their daughters to play sport. Otherwise, they would be confronted with unexpected violence."

For seven years, Zahra was a member of the national team

Sophia, who uses a pseudonym in Afghanistan to protect her family, was once a leader of the volleyball team. However, she fled to a neighboring country two years ago after she was stabbed in Kabul by two men.

She claimed that she had been threatened by the Taliban before, telling her to quit playing volleyball.

Sophia's family destroyed all medals and other kit she couldn't take when she fled because they feared it would make them targets if they were taken into wrong hands.

Sophia keeps in touch with her former teammates. Sophia also stated that one of her former team-mates was killed last month, though details are not clear.

Sophia said, "I'm certain it was the Taliban." "At that point, the Taliban had overtaken all the cities and there weren't any other groups that could do that. She was a player, and people didn't want to attack her.

"We were all stunned by how it happened. We couldn't believe our eyes. We might lose some friends."

Volleyball is a popular sport in Afghanistan.

Although the first women's national soccer team was established over 40 years ago, it was disbanded when the Taliban took power for five consecutive years starting in 1996. After the 2001 overthrow of Taliban by US-led forces, the team was reestablished.

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August, threatening the lives of Afghan female athletes.

Although the Taliban have yet to pass a law regarding sport and women, Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of Taliban's cultural committee, recently stated to SBS Radio Pashto that it was not necessary for women to engage in sport.

After hiding for weeks from the Taliban, the female players of the junior national football team crossed into Pakistan last week.

Members of the women's team for cricket told BBC earlier this month that they were hiding from the authorities, fearing for the safety of their lives.

The Taliban have also banned girls from secondary schools in Afghanistan, and only male teachers are allowed to return to classrooms.

Sophia and Zahra called the International Olympic Committee and International Volleyball Federation to help the volleyball team escape before it was too late.

The IOC spokesmen said that it was helping many athletes and sports administrators in Afghanistan.

He stated that "for obvious reasons we wouldn’t comment on any individual case, especially ones that are currently being handled",

A spokeswoman for FIVB stated that the matter of helping any member of the Afghan volleyball family was extremely sensitive. Therefore, we won't give out further information in order to protect the safety and privacy of all concerned.

Volleyball is a popular sport in Afghanistan and can even be played in prisons

Sophia and Zahra both hope to be reunited with their volleyball team-mates one day, but there is little chance of that happening in Afghanistan.

Zahra stated, "We have fallen into a dark period."

"I don't see any future for Afghanistan volleyball. If we can evacuate them, it's possible to have the same team in Afghanistan.

Sophia stated, "We lost everything in a single day, but want to go further."

"We want the whole world to support us in achieving the goals and dreams we have set for ourselves. We can't let go of our dream.