Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, cricket, sport, and entertainment’s future in the country has been clouded. Cricket, often seen as a source of inspiration in the war-torn country, had been on the rise but now faces a difficult future as the new regime look to make their mark.
Before the much-awaited 2021 men’s T20 World Cup in UAE and Oman, Afghanistan’s premier cricketers, Rashid Khan, Mohammad Nabi and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, are part of the glitzy IPL, which is reportedly not being broadcast in the country.
As of now, Afghanistan are expected to be a part of the men's T20 World Cup where they will play India and Pakistan in the first round.
While most teams are in their final laps of preparation for the T20 World Cup with players either taking part in the IPL or local T20 leagues, Afghanistan have been hit by selection crisis and an unstable cricket board, just among the few problems that Afghanistan cricket face right now, in the men’s team. Meanwhile, the future for the women’s cricket team looks bleak given the Taliban’s consistent negative approach towards it.
In an interview with the Australian broadcaster SBS, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, said women’s sport was considered not necessary.
“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” Wasiq said.
“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 (Afghanistan) do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”
Where Does Women’s Cricket Stand?
The Taliban view is very clear and as soon as they took control of the country, female athletes based outside the country, with help from various agencies, managed to evacuate a lot of those stuck. The likes of Khalida Popal, a former Afghanistan footballer, even asked athletes to delete their history from the internet.
While progress with the Afghanistan women’s cricket team has been quite slow, it was as recently as November 2020 that 25 players were handed contracts. The majority are now said to be in hiding, according to BBC.
In what was a surprise statement, the new chairman of ACB, Fazli, has reportedly told SBS Radio Pashto that "we will give you our clear position on how we will allow women to play cricket. Very soon".
The ICC meanwhile are yet to make a statement on the matter with a board meeting due next month.
Roya Samim, a female cricketer from Afghanistan, expressed dejection over lack of support for women cricketers in the country from ICC. She said that the female cricketers are uncertain about their cricketing future since the Taliban took over the country.
"We all emailed the ICC but got no response from them. Why do they not respond to us, why do they not consider us, even treat us that we don't exist in the world? After the Taliban came into Kabul, we requested that (the ICC) please save all the girls, we are worried for our teammates. The Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) also said nothing, they said just: 'Wait'," Samim was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
What’s Happening at Afghanistan Cricket Board?
As is the case with most roles of leadership in Afghanistan currently, the Taliban have taken over. Since the change of government, Azizullah Fazli has been in charge. Fazli has previously served as the chairman of the board between 2018 and 2019.
ACB’s Head of Media, Hikmat Hassan has recently revealed that Fazli had self-announced himself as the acting ACB chairman, with a provisional letter from the new government. Hassan had alleged that the new chairman had gone on to misuse power in terms of recruitment and removal of employees at will, which as per the ACB constitution, an acting chairman is not authorised to do, according to the Tribune.
Earlier this week on Monday, Shinwari was fired by Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s new Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. He has been reportedly replaced by Naseebullah Haqqani.
Sirajuddin Haqqani is wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection for his alleged role in several high-profile attacks on Kabul during the Taliban’s 20-year war with successive US-backed governments.
According to a Turkish media outlet Daily Sabah Naseebullah Haqqani who is also known as Naseeb Khan is a close ally of the Haqqani network. "He holds a master's degree and has knowledge of cricket as well," the board said on its Facebook page.
Afghanistan Men’s Cricket Team’s Dynamics
And if all isn’t well in Afghanistan cricket off the field, dynamics within the men’s team is also seemingly not in a good place.
Minutes after the T20 World Cup squad was announced, Rashid Khan tweeted that he would be stepping down from captaincy, saying that he wasn’t spoken to about the selection and hence he was stepping down.
Reports suggest that the selection was based on bias with younger players like Noor Ahmad Lakanwal, Azmatullah Omarzai, Fazal Haq Farooqi among many overlooked in favour of the older Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran, and Asghar Afghan.
According to Tribune, Asghar Afghan, who had been unceremoniously stripped off captaincy in May after Afghanistan lost a Test against Zimbabwe, was in the race for a leadership role with the cricket board along with Fazli, former national team manager Taj Malik Alam, and former chairman Allah Daad Noori.
Cricket Australia’s Threat
Once the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, the first threat came to the men’s cricket team in terms of fixtures came from Australia.
Cricket Australia threatened to not host Afghanistan in Hobart for a historic Test beginning 27 November. Cricket Australia had cited the Taliban view of women’s sport and noted that a country without a women’s team weren’t supposed to enjoy Test status. Afghanistan had been awarded Test status in 2014.
Earlier in September, Australia's Federal Sports Minister Senator Richard Colbeck had urged the ICC to take a stand against the Taliban's position and take a decision on Afghanistan's full membership.
Shinwari, who was formerly the CEO of the cricket board, had been the international face of the ACB at the time and had even requested with the cricketing family to not isolate them.
“We ask Cricket Australia and the whole cricketing world to keep the door open for us, walk with us, do not isolate us and avoid penalising us for our cultural and religious environment,” Shinwari had said in a statement.