Hangzhou, China - Afghanistan's volleyball team hope their appearance at the Asian Games in defiance of the Taliban will encourage other women from the country 'to follow their dreams.'
The players braved conflict, exile and threats to their family back home to compete in Hangzhou, they say.
Women's sport in Afghanistan was effectively banned by the Taliban when they returned to power in 2021.
That meant no women traveling from the country in the delegation of more than 120 competitors, coaches and supervisors in China.
But with the help of overseas sports bodies, more than a dozen foreign-based Afghan women are taking part, with the volleyball squad comprising most of them.
'I think it's a big hope for Afghan women, that they haven't given up their dreams, they have to follow their dreams,' 25-year-old middle blocker Mursal Khedri told AFP after a 3-0 defeat to Japan on Sunday.
The 12-member Afghan squad team also faced off against Kazakhstan over the weekend, staying in good spirits despite being soundly defeated by their more seasoned opponents.
Wearing headscarves and long leggings, the players high-fived each other as they ran onto the court at the start of the match.
Spectators erupted in cheers when the Afghans belatedly scored their first point against Japan.
And even though they went down 3-0 in both matches, there was a strong sense of pride at even getting this far.
'It was so hard for Afghan women to attend this Asian Games because it's a difficult situation for us, all of the people know about the situation of Afghanistan,' Khedri said.
Some of the Afghan volleyball players in Hangzhou declined to be interviewed, fearing retaliation against family members still living in Afghanistan.
Following the return to power of the Taliban, hundreds of Afghan athletes, coaches and officials - both men and women - were evacuated on humanitarian visas obtained by National Olympic Committees from various governments.
Olympic officials said they would have faced significant risks had they remained in Afghanistan.
Under their austere interpretation of Islam, Taliban authorities have imposed a slew of restrictions on Afghan women, including banning them from higher education and many government jobs.
The team are set to play against Hong Kong on Monday, the last of their matches.
Despite losing both of their encounters so far, Khedri said it was 'a good experience for our women's team.'
'It was our first experience to participate in the Asian Games,' she said. 'I think we felt very nervous, but we tried our best.'