Out of the media spotlight, Yasameen and Raziea soldier on. There have been triumphs along the way, but defeats, too.
Down through the years, Afghans have maintained an abiding love of soccer. Even during the Taliban era, when the Afghans’ beloved kite-flying was banned, soccer was hard to suppress. So the Taliban put soccer games to their own grisly purposes. The Taliban often carried out barbaric ritual executions of accused adulteresses, and chopped off the hands of convicted thieves, at half-time during games at Kabul’s soccer stadium. But at that very stadium, in 2007, the Rasoul sisters proved to Afghanistan they weren’t just some American public-relations exercise.
The time had come to select players for a women’s national team. Only five of the eight original “Afghan Star” teammates from the children’s olympics in Cleveland entered the tryouts that day, but Yasameen and Raziea were among them. They shut out their opponents five games in a row, four at 3-0, and one at 1-0. That’s how the Afghan national women’s team was born.
Their away games haven’t been especially thrilling. In indoor stadiums with different rules, unfamiliar artificial turf and boots that didn’t fit, the Afghan girls suffered a 23-0 loss in Iran, a 15-0 defeat in Oman, and an 18-1 drubbing from a Palestinian team in Jordan. “But I made that goal,” Yasameen piped up.
There have been other defeats, too.
Committed to bringing more girls’ teams into the Afghan soccer federation, Yasameen had handpicked some bright prospects in Kabul for a team she was coaching. “It didn’t work out,” Yasameen said. First, she couldn’t find a field that would allow girls. When they finally found a field, they were routinely harassed and bullied by local men. The girls gave up. So did Yasameen, but only by shifting tactics.
If girls’ teams were going to have such a hard time of it, even in the Afghan capital of Kabul, then maybe the place to start was with a boy’s team coached by the national women’s team star forward, Yasameen reckoned. “This is how I decided to try again.” The idea is that maybe this way, she can till the ground for more girls’ teams down the road.
That’s how the Kabul Tornadoes was born. It’s still a rough outfit, but it’s coming along.
“Things are changing,” Yasameen said. “Now, there are boys who are coming to the games and they are very happy. They are coming to be on my team. They listen to me. They always come to their practice, and they are actually very good,”
In the meantime, Yasameen is quietly coaching a girls’ team, too, behind the walls of a local school.
But it all takes a toll. Yasameen and Raziea go to school full-time. Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays they practice for two hours with the national team at the soccer field inside the International Security Assistance Force compound in Kabul. Raziea’s coaching duties are an extra burden, and for Yasameen, there’s another two-hour stint three days a week for the Tornadoes, and the same again for the girls’ school team she’s coaching.
“I know what people in the world think about Afghanistan, because they always show the bombs and the killing. But they don’t show the good news. For me,” Yasameen said, “playing soccer, going out, shopping, the games I like playing, bicycle races – this is not wrong. There are bad things. But I am not scared.”
So what about the future?
“I want to be a doctor, to help my country, or the second thing, a professional woman player. And if I could have it, I would like to have a beauty parlour.” She laughs. “And also to play basketball.”
Raziea is no less hopeful. “First of all, I want to be a professional player,” Raziea said. “If not, then a reporter, a television reporter, at the Olympics.”
“Then you can interview me!” Yasameen tells her sister. “I will be the professional player, and you will come and interview me!”