Australia will cancel Afghanistan men’s Test if women’s cricket banned by Taliban

Australia’s cricket board said it will scrap a planned Test match against the Afghanistan men’s team if the Asian country’s Taliban rulers do not allow women to play the sport.

On Wednesday, Ahmadullah Wasiq, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, said women could not play sport and follow an “Islamic dress code” because it would entail “exposing” their face and bodies.

“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” Mr Wasiq told Australian broadcaster SBS News when asked about the future of the country’s womens’ cricket team.  

“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this. It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”

The International Cricket Council reacted by saying it was “concerned” about the fate of the women’s game in Afghanistan while on Thursday Cricket Australia threatened to cancel the forthcoming men’s test match with the country, stating driving the growth of women’s cricket was “incredibly important” to the board.

Australia were scheduled to host their first-ever test against Afghanistan on Nov 27 and CA said last week planning was well underway for the one-off match.

“Our vision for cricket is that it is a sport for all and we support the game unequivocally for women at every level,” CA said on Thursday.

“If recent media reports that women’s cricket will not be supported in Afghanistan are substantiated, Cricket Australia would have no alternative but to not host Afghanistan for the proposed test match due to be played in Hobart.”

The ICC will discuss Afghanistan’s membership at the next board meeting, in November. It is possible that Afghanistan’s status as one of the 12 full members of the ICC – which currently brings annual funding of around $5 million, as well as a vote by the board – could be in jeopardy. The ICC plans to take counsel from international bodies about how to address the situation with Afghanistan.

To suspend a full member requires a two-thirds majority of the ICC board, meaning that 12 of the 17 board members – representatives from the 12 full members, three Associate members, the ICC chair and an independent member – would need to vote in favour.

If the Afghanistan Cricket Board were suspended, steps would be likely to be made to ensure that the men’s team continued to be able to play internationals, mirroring the ICC’s approach when suspending Nepal and the USA in recent years. But when Zimbabwe were suspended for several months in 2019, they were also suspended from ICC events, meaning that they did not have the chance to qualify for the T20 World Cup.

This precedent is only considered a last resort, but suggests that the ICC board could subsequently decide to suspend Afghanistan from ICC events. With any decisions not being taken until the November board meeting, the participation of the Afghanistan men’s team in the T20 World Cup, which begins next month, is not in doubt.

Another potential option for the ICC would be to partially or completely suspend funding that the Afghan Cricket Board receives. ICC funding for full member nations is distributed every January and July, so the Afghan Cricket Board has not received any money since the Taliban took over Kabul last month.

“The ICC has been monitoring the changing situation in Afghanistan and is concerned to note recent media reports that women will no longer be allowed to play cricket,” said an ICC spokesperson. “This and the impact it will have on the continued development of the game will be discussed by the ICC Board at its next meeting.”

Since Afghanistan’s promotion, the ICC has made steps to develop the women’s game in the country, notably raising $180,000 to fund a girls’ cricket project through a partnership with UNICEF in 2019. But Afghanistan have still never played an international women’s match, even though the Afghan Cricket Board awarded 25 contracts to female players last November. Members of the team are believed to be hiding in Kabul.

“The ICC is committed to the long-term growth of women’s cricket and despite the cultural and religious challenges in Afghanistan, steady progress had been made in this area since Afghanistan’s admission as a full member in 2017,” an ICC spokesperson added.

Afghanistan first joined the ICC, as Affiliate members, in June 2001, during the Taliban’s previous reign in the country. Cricket gained a foothold during the previous Taliban government, from 1995-2001, and has then developed rapidly since, with the men’s game largely growing because of refugees returning to the country from Pakistan.

Mr Wasiq said that if the ICC did suspend Afghanistan, the Taliban would not change its position on women being banned from taking part in all sport.

“We will not cross Islamic values even if it carries opposite reactions. We will not leave our Islamic rules,” he said.

“In cricket and other sports, women will not get an Islamic dress code. It is obvious that they will get exposed and will not follow the dress code, and Islam does not allow that.”