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Displaced to Denmark, Afghan refugee football star Nadia Nadim rose to glory

Fleeing the grip of Taliban-oppressed Afghanistan, Nadia Nadim's flight to Denmark allowed her to have a 'second chance' at life and turned her into a football superstar.

Displaced to Denmark, Afghan refugee football star Nadia Nadim rose to glory

Afghan-Danish football star Nadia Nadim, Image Source: Getty


Sohinee Basu

Published: 27 Jun 2021 7:23 AM GMT

Caught in a wave of uncertainty, haunted by fear of the very next moment, Paris Saint-Germain's football star Nadia Nadim's childhood was riddled with trauma and hardships - from witnessing death and massacre. Growing up in war-torn Herat, Afghanistan, the daughter of a general of the Afghan National Army, Nadia Nadim's hopes and dreams about a future were stubbed even before she was a teenager.

Living under the oppressive rule of the Taliban, Nadia Nadim had to endure the pain of losing her father to a ruthless Taliban execution when she was just 11, leaving her four sisters and her mother helpless, overnight. The decades have rolled since that harrowing day and the 33-year-old Nadia Nadim is no longer the helpless figure - having found her way to Denmark as a refugee, Nadim has scaled the heights of greatness and is currently, one of the most inspiring athletes in the world. Routing herself to success, the Afghan-Danish football player led PSG to the French League title recently and ended Lyon's 14 consecutive titles-run, too.

It has been an emotional few weeks for football in Denmark, as well. At the ongoing Euro Cup 2020, the Denmark men's team created history by moving into the quarter-finals after thrashing Wales, 4-0. Becoming the only team in Euro Cup history to score four or more goals in back-to-back matches, Kasper Hjulmand's side marched to victory at the Johann Cruyff Arena.

Nearly a fortnight ago, the world had joined their hands in prayer as Denmark's midfield sensation, Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during the opening match against Finland. For team-mates, watching a fellow player pass out mid-game, was a numbing experience. To see the Denmark team bounce back so well from such odds and produce such emphatic performances is indeed inspiring and telling of their team spirit.

Charting the escape route - Nadia Nadim's difficult road to glory

Nadia Nadim plays for the Denmark National football team, Image Source: Getty

"Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting." - A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

Gripped by terror constantly, Nadia Nadim's childhood was spent battling nightmares that took the form of reality, during her initial years in Afghanistan. Being a woman in a Taliban-ruled country spells misfortune and utter discrimination and marginalisation - seeking to escape the claws of such blatant horror, Nadia Nadim's mother planned to flee the state with her five daughters.

"The only thing I was thinking of was staying alive, you know, surviving until the next day," she tells CNN Sport. "I was just looking: 'Okay, what's going to happen? What's happening right now? How can I survive until the next morning?'

The wait for better days to come is pain-staking and the trauma caused by this form of an experience is often irreparable but Nadia Nadim has fought against all odds to be the inspiring athlete she is today.

"And I think that's the case for a lot of the people who are in these camps. You know, it is in the moment and then you're trying to make the best out of it and then try to stay alive and hope for the best for tomorrow," Nadim said to CNN Sport.

Selling off their precious items, Nadia Nadim's mother offered money to a smuggler in Pakistan to arrange for fake passports and visas to pay for a safe passage to the United Kingdom. Uprooted from their homeland, the Nadim family flew to Italy before having to spend days hiding in a truck and finally ended up accidentally, in Sandholm, Denmark.

This serendipitous occurrence turned out to be the turning point of Nadia Nadim's life, who till then only knew of football from her Afghan general father. However, after the Taliban took over in 1996, women were barred from playing sports, let alone football and therefore, Nadim's only idea stemmed from playing with her father and her sisters in their courtyard, behind the eyes of the Taliban.

In Denmark, Nadia Nadim's fortune transformed revolutionarily. Instead of spending days, lying crippled with fear, the refugee camps near Aalborg liberated her. Till date, she looks back memorably on her days spent in the refugee camps of Denmark - which acted as the crucible for her football dreams.

"Suddenly I came to a refugee camp where there was access to sports, access to read and I felt like I could be a child again," she recalls. "So I have really, really fond memories of the refugee camp. I know it sounds weird, when I tell some people, they're like: 'Oh, what?' But that's how I felt then, you know, and that's why I feel KLABU and PSG are trying to do the same," Nadim mentioned, highlighting her interest in working for the refugees in the world, starting by focussing on Cox's Bazaar, in Bangladesh.

Taking to football soon, Nadia blended in right away as she realized the sport is the easiest language to converse in, especially for a refugee migrant. Beginning her career by playing for B52 Aalborg, Nadia Nadim has also donned the jersey of IK Skovbakken, Fortuna Hjørring, Sky Blue FC, Portland Thorns FC, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and currently Nadia signed up for Racing Louisville FC to play in the NWSL. Having tasted success in her football career, Nadim has displayed a rare kind of energy in her style of game and she lets the fire inside her, fuel and propel her forward to success.

The many caps of Nadia Nadim - football star, linguist, doctor, humanitarian

Nadia Nadim, Image Source: DBU

Having lived a life fraught with ample difficulties, the 2017 Euro Cup runner-up, Nadia Nadim's vision has always been drawn to looking out for the silver lining. The cheerful football star's talent with the ball needs no elaborate explanation as the statistics speak for themselves - Nadim has scored nearly 200 goals in her illustrious career and has developed a special bond with penalty strikes.

However, the 2017 Dane of the Year, Nadim's success off-the-field is also far-reaching as she is noted for her humanitarian work, especially in promoting gender equality and helping out refugees all over the world. Fluent in as many as 11 languages, Nadim is quite the linguist and has also trained to be a reconstructive surgeon at the Aarhus University.

"I've always thought I play football for myself, I love playing the game, but I want to do a bigger difference in life because I think I have the capacity of being able to help other people and I think being in a position as a doctor, I might affect more people's life than I'm doing as a football player," Nadim mentioned in an interview.

Denmark's tryst with successful rehabilitation of refugees

Nadia Nadim in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, Image Source: Danish Refugee Council

Afghan-Danish player Nadia Nadim, is however not the only one to have had a second chance at life and their dreams after fleeing their countries and arriving at Denmark. Being a sports-loving nation, Denmark is all-accepting and does a wonderful job in helping refugees and migrants integrate into the mainstream society - through various activities, chief of which is sports.

"Denmark has given me so much by giving me the chance to live here. I feel like now I have a base where I belong. I'm also getting an education, which is another benefit of living here. The rest is up to me. I like the simple lifestyle in Denmark. People don't judge each other here. I can work any job I want, and people will never talk down to me. A general manager and a cleaner will be treated the same way. People just want to live life, so everyone can be what they want to be. That's what I love most about Denmark. It's a good place." - a Syrian refugee basketball player, Moudi said in "Second Chances – Refugee Voices in Denmark" by Amy Cunningham & Sasja van Vechgel.

Nadia Nadim remains as one of the leading examples of how Denmark has helped in giving life to the dreams and aspirations of refugees by rekindling the spark of talent in them. The inspiring athlete, who has braved past the trauma imposed by her younger years in Afghanistan, now plans to change the world - one strike at a time, making it a better place for all refugees, especially the children.

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