Burning their football team uniforms, deleting their social media accounts, going into hiding, narrowly avoiding gunfire, getting trampled and beaten by the Taliban, and then wading through sewer water in hope of a rescue. This was the ordeal the Afghanistan women’s football team had to go through while trying to flee the country, according to former team coach Haley Carter.
The 86 Afghan athletes, officials, and their family members were eventually airlifted to safety, thanks to an internationally coordinated effort involving six countries.
"I can't believe that a ragtag group of six women, some human rights lawyers, football coaches, and a program director managed to use our networks and our resources to get these women out," Carter was quoted by CNN as saying.
Carter joined the Afghan women’s team in 2016 as an assistant coach. The team itself was formed just in 2007.
"We made it our mission to empower those women. We wanted to create a football team that could compete at the international level. But we all knew that this effort was something much, much bigger than football. We gave them the opportunity to use sport to get out of the house, to get an education," Carter told CNN.
Carter is currently involved with the Antigua and Barbuda team and is no longer professionally involved with the Afghan women's team. But according to her, the bond is unbreakable.
And indeed, those relationships certainly helped when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the middle of August. The team and their well-wishers quickly realized that their lives were about to dramatically change. Khalida Popal, the team's former captain, and Carter took it on themselves to evacuate the team.
And they were helped by human rights advocates Kat Craig and Alison Battisson, former Afghanistan women's football coach Kelly Lindsey and the Olympic swimmer Nikki Dryden, thus completing what Carter calls a “ragtag group of six”.
"We have a team that's working 24 hours, taking tactical naps to tag out for each other. Last night, I got three-and-a-half hours sleep and I feel like it was the best sleep I have gotten in days," Carter said.
When she got the confirmation of the team’s safety, Carter wrote her emotions on Twitter.
"I've never cried tears of relief like I cried when I got the last pic," she wrote.