Khalida Popal, former captain of the Afghan Women’s team
Few footballers understand the significance and symbolism of the Afghanistan national team kit as well as former captain Khalida Popal.
She was not only instrumental in transforming the way that football was viewed by the Afghan population but was also a highly influential figure in enabling the sport to be used as a tool of empowerment for women across the country.
The former defender made over 20 appearances for the Afghanistan women’s team before her career was cut short by a knee injury. Despite that blow, she remains an iconic figure for women’s football in the country.
“The national team shirt symbolises all of our culture, our tradition, our history,” says Popal. “To wear that shirt and to lead your country out onto the football pitch is something that stays with you forever.
“It was a huge honour to captain my country but it was an even bigger honour to be seen as a role model and an inspiration for thousands of young girls and women in Afghanistan. I think the Afghanistan women’s team shows the huge potential football has as a unifying force. I like to think that we have given a lot of women in our country fresh hope.”
Popal played a key role in leading the Afghanistan women’s team into a brave new era – an era where ‘The Afghan Lions’ can now compete on a level playing field with other teams from across the world.
All achieved while wearing a unique shirt, complete with an integrated hijab that not only enables the Afghanistan team to showcase the country’s rich history but also enables those who wear it to perform at their absolute best.
“I have been involved in the consultation for the design of the shirt pretty much from the outset,” she says. “I wanted something that reflected the strength of the Afghan character and incorporated the very best of the country’s traditions and heritage.
“I think this shirt has achieved both.”
Footage from Afghanistan by Emilie Ladefoged