Australia pulls out of Afghanistan cricket series over Taliban’s restrictions on women
The Australian men’s cricket team has withdrawn from a series of upcoming matches against Afghanistan in protest of the Taliban’s prevailing restrictions on the education and employment of women and girls, Cricket Australia (CA) said in a statement on Thursday.
The teams were scheduled to play three One Day International (ODI) matches in the United Arab Emirates in March, but CA decided to cancel the series after “extensive consultations” with “various stakeholders, including the Australian government,” the statement said.
“CA is committed to support [and] grow the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to work with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country,” it added.
In December, the Taliban announced the suspension of university education for all female students. The move followed a decision in March to ban girls from returning to secondary schools, following months of closures in place since the Islamist group took over Afghanistan in August 2021.
Later that month, the Taliban ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to prevent their female employees from coming to work, warning that failure to comply would result in their licenses being revoked.
The Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) responded to CA’s decision on Thursday, describing it as “pathetic” and “an attempt to enter the realm of politics and politicize the sport.”
“By prioritizing political interests over the principles of fair play and sportsmanship, Cricket Australia is undermining the integrity of the game and damaging the relationship between the two nations,” the statement said.
“The decision to withdraw from playing the upcoming ODI series against Afghanistan is unfair and unexpected and will adversely affect the development and growth of cricket in Afghanistan as well as[ing] the love and passion of the Afghan nation for the game.”
The ACB said it is considering what action to take on the matter, including the possibility of writing to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and “reconsidering the participation of Afghan players” in Australia’s Twenty20 competition, the Big Bash League (BBL).
The ACB statement followed comments made by prominent Afghan player Rashid Khan.
Khan, who played for the Adelaide Strikers in this year’s BBL, joined a statement on Twitter with the words: “Keep politics out of it.”
“I am really disappointed to hear that Australia has pulled out of the series to play us in March,” Khan wrote.
“I am proud to represent my country and we have made great strides on the global stage. This decision by CA puts us back on that journey.
“If playing against Afghanistan is so uncomfortable for Australia then I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence in the BBL. Therefore, I will think strongly about my future in that competition.”
CA had previously pulled out of a proposed test match against Afghanistan to take place in Tasmania in November 2021 due to the Taliban’s ban on women from playing sports.
“Promoting the growth of women’s cricket globally is incredibly important to Cricket Australia. Our vision for cricket is that it is a sport for everyone, and we unequivocally support the game for women at every level,” CA said at the time.
Australian Sports Minister Anika Wells said on Thursday Canberra supports Cricket Australia’s move.
“The Australian Government welcomes Cricket Australia’s decision to withdraw from the upcoming One Day International series for men against Afghanistan, following the Taliban’s increasing crackdown on the rights of women and girls,” she tweeted.
While the Taliban has repeatedly claimed to protect girls’ and women’s rights, the group has done the opposite, taking away the hard-won freedoms women have fought tirelessly for over the past two decades.
The United Nations and at least half a dozen major foreign aid agencies have said they are temporarily suspending operations in Afghanistan following the ban on female NGO workers.