The ICC has finally expressed “alarm” about Afghanistan’s continued lack of support for women’s cricket as the international organisation gears up to host its inaugural U-19 Women’s T20 World Cup later this week. At the competition in South Africa, where 16 teams are competing, Afghanistan is the only ‘Full Member’ who is not represented. Women’s cricket in Afghanistan has made no progress whatsoever well over a year after the Taliban took control of the country. There are indications that it won’t in the near future, forcing the ICC to address the issue at its next board meeting in March.
After the Taliban seized control of the nation in 2021, the international governing body established a working group to assess cricket in Afghanistan. The group, led by International Cricket Council (ICC) deputy chair Imran Khwaja, met with Afghan cricket and government officials in November of last year, including Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. Reiterating its pledge to uphold the ICC constitution, the government allegedly stated that it would support the growth of women’s cricket.
However, despite their formal efforts to broaden their domestic structure and spread cricket to new areas, nothing has actually been done to encourage women to pick up the sport. In all formats, from youth to senior level, there are six events for men’s cricket. However, no funding has been allocated for women’s cricket yet, and Afghanistan is the only cricketing nation to have the status of Full Member without fulfilling one of its fundamental requirements, having a fully functional women’s side.
The Taliban leadership has imposed an indefinite ban on girls attending universities, which, according to ICC CEO Geoff Allardice, is worrying, and has made the situation even worse.
“Obviously, the recent developments [banning higher education for girls] in Afghanistan are concerning. Our board has been monitoring progress since the change of regime. It is a concern that progress is not being made in Afghanistan and it’s something our board will consider at its next meeting in March. As far as we are aware, there isn’t activity at the moment,” Allardice said during a virtual press conference as quoted by ESPNcricinfo.
Many women have fled or attempted to leave the country since the Taliban assumed control. Women who previously worked at the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) office in Kabul no longer frequent the building. According to reports, several have left the country.
“Women’s cricket in Afghanistan has always been a burning issue and I don’t see there is a solution right now. There will be a cultural challenge and we hardly have a pool of players in the country. In fact, there has never been a women’s team even before the Taliban came into power. There were a handful of girls playing cricket in their home as a recreational activity. It never made it onto the field because there was no real intent or platform,” Asad Ullah, until recently a director with the ACB, told ESPNcricinfo.
“There hasn’t been any interest at all. Definitely, they can play, if they want to, but in Afghanistan, it was not an option for girls. There is a big number of girls who left the country thinking that they won’t have the freedom to play sports. But are they playing sports in Australia or elsewhere? I don’t think so. They left for a better future which is their right but cricket among girls in Afghanistan hasn’t been popular anyway and it hasn’t been encouraged either. It is largely because of the lack of acceptance of women going out. ICC should understand the dynamics in the country and it’s not something they can enforce and government can implement at once. It takes time. Every country operates within their own law. There are certain things that aren’t open as in western society,” expressed Asad.
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