Afghan women’s soccer team to visit Hiroshima in September

by Izumiko Soda, Staff Writer

In September, the women’s national soccer team from Afghanistan will pay a visit to Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Office of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has invited the team to Japan to lend support to women dedicating themselves to soccer in Afghanistan, a patriarchal nation which is undergoing a reconstruction effort from the devastation caused by civil war and U.S. military intervention. The team members will listen to the experiences of A-bomb survivors at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and engage in a friendly match with Angeviolet Hiroshima, a team in the second division of Japan’s “Nadeshiko” women’s soccer league.

A total of 20 members of the Afghan team, including 15 players, the head coach, and other staff, will arrive in Hiroshima on September 15. They plan to visit the Peace Memorial Museum and meet with A-bomb survivors as well as take part in training sessions on peace building and leadership. They will also practice with players from Angeviolet and take part in a friendly match on September 20. The Afghan team will also attend games featuring Sanfrecce Hiroshima, a men’s soccer team in the first division of Japan’s “J League,” and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Hiroshima’s professional baseball team. They will leave Hiroshima on September 22.

UNITAR has been bringing government officials from Afghanistan to Japan for training programs each year since 2003. The number of Afghans who have undergone training in Hiroshima has reached around 450. Inspired by the successful reconstruction of the A-bombed city, they return to Afghanistan to support their nation’s recovery.

The Afghan women’s soccer team is currently ranked 132nd in the world by FIFA (the Federation Internationale de Football Association). Most of the players who will visit Hiroshima are reportedly college students, and five members of the team study overseas.

Mihoko Kumamoto, the director of the UNITAR Hiroshima Office, said that girls were not able to receive an adequate education when the Taliban regime controlled the country, and even now women face heavy discrimination in Afghan society. Women who play sports are known to suffer from criticism.

Ms. Kumamoto added, “Sports have the power to bring people together. These women who play soccer, and risk their lives to do it, are rising stars of Afghanistan. I plan to do all I can to welcome them to Hiroshima.”

(Originally published on August 24, 2015)