They are being processed in the UAE before heading to Canada to begin their new lives.
“Oh my God, it is really tough to explain our situation in words,” she said.
“It’s really difficult because the main reason, specific reason, that I leave Afghanistan was because I was not secure as an athlete. I was doing sports in Afghanistan, but nowadays, that is not safe … I was forced to leave my country.”
Following nearly two decades of conflict, the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan’s capital and took over the country’s presidential palace, barely a month after the US began the final withdrawal of military troops from its longest running war.
‘I want to prove that girls are capable’
The Afghan cyclist’s story of athlete evacuation is one of several to emerge from the Taliban’s takeover, following on from the evacuation of the women’s national football team last month.
Explaining how sport had become a conduit in the continued fight for women’s rights, Popal’s sentiments are echoed strongly in the cyclist’s own words.
“We used to practice, we used to have competitions. We even used to compete with boys … And we were happy,” she added.
“But nowadays, it is really disappointing. It hurts us actually to see the situation that the girls will not be allowed.
“As a girl cyclist, as an athlete that I was doing sports in Afghanistan to stand for rights of human, mostly girls.
“I am planning to go out of my country as I couldn’t stay … and I want to continue my sport and my education. I want to prove that the girls are capable, that girls have the right to do what they want.
“They are allowed. They should be allowed to do their studies, to do any sport they want and to have a life that they are supposed to have.”
The cyclist’s revelations are made all the more poignant by the announcement of a Taliban official that women would not be permitted to play cricket and other sports.
“It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”
The International Cricket Council requires its 12 full members — which includes Afghanistan — to have a national women’s team.