Afghanistan’s cricket authorities have pleaded with Australia and other national teams not to shun them over the suggestion from the country’s new Taliban rulers that women could be banned from the sport.
A Taliban representative said on Wednesday that he didn’t think women would be allowed to play cricket because it was “not necessary” and that it would be against Islam if women players were put in a situation where their faces and bodies might be “uncovered”.
In response, Cricket Australia (CA) has said it would scrap the Test against the Afghanistan men’s team, scheduled in Hobart in November, if the Taliban didn’t allow women to play the sport.
Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) chief executive Hamid Shinwari issued a statement on Friday expressing the board’s “shock and immense disappointment” at the Australian stance, which he called a “knee-jerk reaction”.
“The ACB is powerless to change the culture and religious environment of Afghanistan,” Shinwari said in the statement, which began with the exhortation “Keep the Door Open for Us! Walk with us!”
“We are concerned that, if other countries’ cricket administrators follow CA, then Afghan cricket will be alienated from the cricket world, the development of cricket in our country will be stalled and, even more concerning, cricket may cease to exist in Afghanistan.”
The Afghan women’s squad was disbanded amid safety concerns a few years after it was formed in 2010 but the ACB revived the team last year and gave contracts to 25 players.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan two decades ago, girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) will discuss the issue in its next board meeting, to be held on the sidelines of the Twenty20 World Cup in October-November.
“The whole country is in flux and transition while the new government sets it policies and priorities,” Shinwari said.
Cricket was first played in Afghanistan by British troops in the 19th century, but it only took root in the 1990s after Afghans who had learnt the game in refugee camps in Pakistan returned home.
It was initially banned by the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule but later permitted and has since become hugely popular in the country.
The Afghanistan Cricket Federation was formed in Pakistan in 1995 and the ACB joined the ICC in 2001 as an affiliate member, gaining full membership in 2017.