The world cricket community has struggled to determine the appropriate way to respond since the Taliban marched through Kabul’s streets and US forces withdrew from Afghanistan.
Cricket is hugely popular in Afghanistan, and the country’s progress from refugee camps in Pakistan to full membership in the International Cricket Council over the last two decades has been one of cricket’s great feel-good tales, with each successful step heartily applauded.
The future of cricket in Afghanistan is very uncertain, especially for the female players, following the Taliban’s takeover, and over the next few months, the ICC and national governments are going to have to deal with a number of situations that are complex.
How Afghanistan Has Adopted Cricket
During the colonial era, cricket was played in Afghanistan, but modern cricket flourished in the northern Pakistani refugee camps, such as Peshawar. The game has exploded in the last two decades and has now overtaken other sports in popularity in Afghanistan.
Cricket has grown in Afghanistan, and the success of the men’s team is one of the best feel-good stories in modern times. In order to help with this, the ICC has helped Afghanistan and the progression of the men’s team has been one of the sport’s greatest feel-good stories in modern times.
Prior to the 2001 International Cricket Council (ICC) classification, Afghanistan was ranked as an Associate Member, and had no qualification path to compete in ICC’s One Day International (ODI) T20s. However, this classification was upgraded in 2001, allowing them to compete in One Day International (ODI) matches and to participate in T20 World Cups, provided they competed in T20 International matches.
The national team was finally given permission to play One-Day Internationals in Afghanistan in 2003, when the country was given Associate Member status. This was followed by the country’s first World Cup appearance in 2015.
The team gained Full Member status in 2017 after rising to even greater successes. Only 12 nations hold full membership in the ICC and as such, are given privileges like participating in high-profile board meetings and playing a lot of Test cricket, which is the longest and most traditional type of cricket that exists. It’s essentially the most exclusive club in international cricket.
The rise of a few Afghanistan cricketers to real international stardom has occurred in recent years. Highly coveted in the big money domestic T20 tournaments around the world like the Indian Premier League, Big Bash League, and the Caribbean Premier League, amongst others, the most sought-after players include Mohammed Nabi and Rashid Khan.
The Consequences Of The Taliban’s Rule For Afghan Men’s Cricket
The Taliban’s position on cricket was ambiguous at first.
Ahmadullah Wasiq, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural committee, has confirmed that cricket will continue unabated and that [the Afghan team] will be able to compete against other international teams.” This was stated in an interview with SBS, an Australian television network.”We want all countries to be friends in the future,” he explained.
Mr Wasiq’s declaration, however, came with a key caveat: any sport “shall be done in a manner that is not ‘un-Islamic’ and against Afghan traditional values.”
However, it’s unclear what constitutes “un-Islamic” behaviour in men’s cricket.
How do you feel about women’s cricket?
Women’s participation in sports is controversial, the movement of female cricketers in Afghanistan has been met with resistance due to cultural and religious attitudes. In 2010, the first national women’s team was formed but it ceased to exist in 2014.
When the ICC granted Afghanistan Full Membership in 2017, it made an exception to its gender equality rules. To gain the status of a Test-playing nation, sports boards are often required to create women’s national teams, as well as a structured career path for female players, but Afghanistan’s teams in 2017 lacked such a pathway. The ICC has made exceptions in its constitution, however.
It was observed that the ACB had committed to building a national team and programme, and had already begun this effort.
A plan was put together to begin working on forming a national team and development pathway. This came with the ACB’s promise to establish a pathway and team.
25 contracts for female players were awarded by the ACB, but none of the players have played a match, despite the plan to play against Oman in 2019.
Though the Taliban will not let women play cricket with their faces and bodies exposed, indications are that they’ll permit female players of any level to play.
SBS news quoted Mr Wasiq, who feels that women are “unnecessary” for cricket participation.
“If it’s cricket, they may find themselves in an awkward situation where they have to show themselves completely in the open. “Islam forbids women to appear in this manner,” Mr. Wasiq said.
“Cameras, social media, and the Internet can now create problems because it spreads so quickly. Islam and the Islamic Emirate prohibit women from participating in cricket, in addition to other kinds of sport that expose their bodies.
The future of the female ACB recruits is in doubt. There are at least a few players who have left Afghanistan.
Afghan national team member Roya Samim and her two sisters are in Canada right now, and Samim recently told The Guardian she was afraid for her teammates who are still in Afghanistan.
They feel sorrow, and they plead for assistance. “Physically and emotionally, they are having a tough time,” Samim shared.
It was stated in the BBC that the Taliban issued threats to female cricketers. The anonymous player, Asel, still resides in Kabul.
‘Asel’ told the BBC, “Not a single woman playing cricket or any other sport is safe right now.” “Kabul is extremely difficult to live in right now.
“We use WhatsApp for a group chat, and every night we chat about our problems and future plans. We are hopeless”
“There are a few of their friends who used to play cricket with them, and who now work with the Taliban. “When the Taliban took over Kabul, they told the local people, ‘If you attempt to play cricket again, we may come and kill you.”
In November, Australia was set to host Afghanistan for a one-off Test match.
It was the first test between both countries, and this highly anticipated game was already postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In response to Mr. Wasiq’s allegation that women are not permitted to play cricket, however, Cricket Australia cancelled the match until Taliban policies had been confirmed.
Cricket Australia stated in a statement, “The expansion of women’s cricket worldwide is immensely significant to Cricket Australia.
“We believe cricket to be a sport for everyone and unambiguously support the game for women at all levels.
“Cricket Australia would not have an alternative other than host Afghanistan in a proposed Test Match in Hobart, if recent press reports are substantiated that female crickets are not going to be supported in Afghanistan.”
Hamid Shinwari, the CEO of the ACB, publicly requested CA to rethink a position which would isolate Afghanistan and point out that women cricket is progressing slowly in other nations.
“If CA chooses to cancel the test match and isolate the men’s Afghan National Team, the cultural and religious values will not be affected in their present form. The government spokesman has said this unambiguously, “Shinwari said.
“It has taken a balanced, diplomatic, sensitive and respectful approach to our culture and religiosity context as we have worked to build up every facet, despite the challenges facing us, of cricket games in our country.
“We feel that the ICC recognizes and accepts that in the country’s traditional cultural, religious and changes in political circles we have made everything we can to grow crickets
“CA would have to use the same path as ICC as an option to canceling the test match. A considerable, balanced ‘cricket diplomacy’ for Afghanistan and cricket would be considerably better than a hasty reaction of the ‘knee jerk,’ “He added.
The Answer From ICC
The ICC is responsible for world cups and can ban countries for a number of reasons while individual Boards like CA have control over bilateral series.
Afghanistan is a part of the 16 competing nations participating in the Men’s T20 World Cup that is scheduled to take place in the UAE and Oman during October and November.
The ICC has announced that it is monitoring the current situation in Afghanistan and will approach its work in a cautious manner.
“Despite cultural and religious challenges, the ICC has seen steady progress in Afghanistan women’s cricket since they were accepted as a Full Member in 2017,” according to an ICC spokesperson. The ICC has been keeping tabs on the situation in Afghanistan and has become worried over recent reports that female cricket players are banned.
The ICC Board will discuss this at its next meeting, and what impact it will have on the continued development of the game.
Early next week, the ICC may need to have an emergency board meeting in order to vote on Afghanistan’s inclusion in the upcoming tournament, given the T20 World Cup is coming up, and the board meeting is scheduled for later in the month, in November.
Full members must agree to anti-discrimination practices outlined by the ICC. Boards are advised to create a statement against discrimination so that intolerance is “made clear to all employees, officials, commercial partners and other participants and stakeholders.”
Gender equality has made many more strides than before, but it has done so at uneven paces in the cricket-playing countries.
Thanks to a recent decision by CA, Australia’s women’s cricket team is the first ever to be paid the same amount of prize money as their male counterparts for winning the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup, despite the fact that in most countries, women’s cricket remains semi-professional.
The ICC is only in charge of its own tournaments, and while they’ve attempted to introduce more equality for female players in global competition, they have noted that the changing culture and environment are challenges in bringing about change.
It is unclear at this point whether the organization will respond to the government’s recent declaration that it would not allow women to participate in future competitions.
It is important to understand the implications of this very complicated, fluid, and delicate situation before making any decisions that may have lasting effects on women’s and men’s cricket in Afghanistan and their players.
Other countries may opt to stay away from Afghanistan altogether in bilateral series, thus leaving the ACB in isolation.
It’s possible that the ICC may see the ACB as having a positive effect on the status of cricket because, with the ACB as a Full Member and Afghanistan in the T20 World Cup, cricket would maintain its importance and women would have the chance to play.
The ICC could instead shut down the ACB altogether. This has happened in the past – for example, the United States, Nepal, and Zimbabwe were all suspended recently.
Even when Nepal’s cricket board was suspended in 2016 due to government interference and a lack of free and fair elections, and the USA Cricket Association was removed from power in 2017 due to disagreements about the game’s administration, the national teams were still able to play, as did the US teams.
The ACB’s agreement with the Taliban and the resulting ban have put the men’s team in an odd position where they will be playing for Afghanistan but will not be representing either the ACB or the Taliban in their games. Their situation is a little like the Russian athletes who represented the Republic of Russia in Tokyo.
It appears that there are no opportunities for women to play in the near future.
At the global level, those playing Afghanistan’s most popular sport, especially women, face dim circumstances, with their personal safety and the well-being of their families proving more important than the merits of any individual match or tournament.