Some things are meant to transcend war and political aggression. Things like friendly competition, fair play, equal opportunities, and chocolate chip cookies.
However, in some pockets of the world, this isn’t always the case – pockets that are ruled by tyrannical dictators, terrorist groups, highly conservative warlords, and others with Draconian motives and methods.
It’s a good thing Lorrie Fair doesn’t get caught up in all of that, has a good head on her shoulders, and is willing to go the extra mile – literally – to make sure the oppressed people of the world have a chance to share in her love of soccer.
Fair, a former U.S. Olympic soccer team member, is now an athlete ambassador for Right To Play and Show Racism the Red Card. She also serves in the Sport Envoy Program run by the U.S. State Department in conjunction with the U.S. Soccer Federation, going on envoys abroad to promote healthy lifestyles, and sport for diplomacy. Since 2008, Fair has worked with several projects, such as Charlize Theron‘s Africa Outreach Project and her own Kickabout Africa 2010 project, to promote development efforts in Africa.
Her most recent endeavor took her to one of the most oppressed, divided nations in the world. Afghanistan is still crawling out from under the clutches of the Taliban rule, and is still trying to put itself together after years of civil unrest and international strife.
But for a few days in Kabul not long ago, a small group of Afghan women was presented with an opportunity to block out all of the mayhem and focus on one thing they all had in common with their American counterpart: Soccer.
Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team is just five years old, has played internationally since 2008, and has faced some serious growing pains, including an 11-0 thumping at the hands of India just this year. But no one questions the team members’ heart and desire to succeed. Because to them, it’s more than just a game.
Team captain Zahra Mahmoudi was born and raised in Iran. Upon her family’s return to Afghanistan in 2004, Mahmoudi took it upon herself to teach the neighborhood girls the sport. She’s still teaching neighborhood girls today, and the lesson goes deeper than the final score.
“It doesn’t matter for us if we lose the game,” Mahmoudi recently told NPR’s Sean Carberry. “It’s not important for us. The [important] matter is being a team and existing, because being a soccer player in Afghanistan is a fight against the Taliban and all the people who don’t want females to be in society or to work or to study.”
Fair recently helped, by leading a clinic for the soccer players with some logistical help from the State Department. Because the facilities are lacking, and because some still believe that women have no business on the athletic field, Fair led the Afghan women through several exercises on the U.S. Embassy’s tennis court.
When the day was over, Fair realized something – she was as much a student of the Afghan women as they were of her.
“I can say that I’m definitely impressed,” Fair told NPR. “They’re skilled, they’re passionate. They’re pretty courageous to even be here. If this country has a future, it’s going to be in these women here, because they were pretty amazing.”