BBC article looking into a high-profile evacuation of “false” Afghan female footballers fleeing the Taliban has been met with outrage and said to be "endangering lives".

Thirty-five women and their families were flown to the UK from Pakistan in November 2021.

Female soccer players were perceived to be at risk from the Taliban, and there were concerns that they might face consequences for taking part in a sport that the new regime considered to be contrary to Islamic principles.

They were granted visas by the Home Office, but the investigation by BBC Newsnight said that a number of the women were not “top-tier players” as it was claimed. 

The team’s former male coach, now living in Italy, was quoted as saying: "I have seen people in the list who have not even worn a football strip in Herat."

But some of the players involved have come out in force to condemn the “shocking” article, saying it has impacted their mental health and potentially endangered the lives of their families’ back in Afghanistan.

The National:

20-year-old Narges Mayeli is one of them. A member of the Afghan women’s development team living in Doncaster, she said she is “really really upset” by the article, adding that it has been “very tough” for her team to see. 

“The trauma we had from Afghanistan. Those deep dark days that we had. The mental health issues we had with the Taliban. We came through bullets, blood and explosive attacks.

“We’re just trying to forget about those days and trying to play football, study and get rid of those bad memories. But everytime there is some kind of attack from the media. They are violating my teammates, our team.”

Mayeli was on the verge of tears as she spoke. She said this sort of coverage could endanger some of her teammates' family who are still back home in Afghanistan. “This last article puts too many people’s lives in danger.

“Some of my teammates are here all alone. The youngest one is 14. Their family is still in danger.

“My teammates, since yesterday morning, they can’t stop thinking about it. They are really shocked. They are asking each other all the time – what is going to happen?

“The only thing we want is to study, play football, live our lives and have our very very basic human rights. We don’t want anything else.”

Sahar Chamran, one of Mayeli’s teammates, also condemned the article on Twitter and said it was “sad to hear.”

She tweeted: “My name is mentioned in this article without even asking me and considering the risk towards my or any of my family members' life. Isn't irresponsible do reporters get the award for such kinds of reports??”

Another teammate, Sosan Mohammadi, added: "It's been two days since this article. I don't feel like getting out of bed and facing questions at school or around.

"We have been through alot this is not fair to us. Shame on you BBC."

Dr Emma Briant, a leading academic, is planning to file a complaint to the BBC. She said in a tweet: “These women are refugees who were fleeing certain persecution. The @BBCNews is presenting them as somehow ‘undeserving’ or less deserving than if they had somehow had better football skills. Appalling reporting.

“This also reinforces the public confusion over why we should take refugees. The right wing press portrays refugees as ‘illegal’ and as people coming for work desirability reasons, but these women (both those you call ‘fake’ and the rest of the football team) were fleeing.”

The article seems to have not been met with unanimous approval by former and current BBC employees, either. Nicola Careem, former BBC South Asia Bureau Chief, said: “This story makes me v. uncomfortable. They’re not ‘false’ women. No woman is safe under Taliban.

“There are NO functioning safe routes for Afghan women inside the country to escape. I’m glad for them that they managed to get out. We should be helping more to do the same.”

Megha Mohan, a current BBC correspondent, tweeted her support to Chamran: "You are incredibly brave and an inspiration to many women – including me."

A BBC spokesperson said: "We were initially contacted by the former women footballers still in Afghanistan who were unhappy they had been left behind and who had seen others claiming to be top-tier sportspeople granted refugee status. We investigated their claims.

“The BBC has taken care not to identify anyone who hasn’t been previously been identified in other media but we will always carefully consider representations from those involved in stories.”

At the time of publishing, the BBC had removed several of the players’ names it had in the original piece.