Cricket Australia (CA) has indicated it will cancel its men's Test match versus Afghanistan if reports that the women's team cannot play under Taliban rule are true.
This is in response to the Taliban cultural commission deputy head Ahmadullah Wasiq telling Australian broadcaster SBS News that he doesn’t "think women will be allowed to play cricket."
CA added that should "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."
This match was scheduled to to be their first ever Test Match against Afghanistan, acting as a pseudo-warm up match ahead of the Ashes series with England, which begins on 8 December.
This situation means cricket finds itself once more at the heart of the ‘politics vs sport’ debate, other examples of which we have touched upon previously.
The debate in question is as follows: Should cricket, or any other sport for that matter, be used as a pawn in the political game of chess? Or should sport remain apolitical, with its influence used to build bridges rather than burn them down?
Let Them Play Cricket
On one side of the coin, we have the argument that cricket should remain independent of the political sphere.
Deciding what political stance would warrant sanctions from the international cricket community is fraught with danger. Given the complexity of ongoing relationships between cricket playing nations, to ensure there is universal agreement which conditions must be met for sanctions to be needed would be perilous at best. The Pakistani political establishment, for example, celebrated the Taliban take over, so it would be difficult to see them supporting CA’s stance.
Further, imposing sanctions in this instance sets a dangerous precedent for other cricket playing nations. If banning women is to be sanctioned, should other countries not also face consequences for, amongst other factors, having questionable human rights record (as per Amnesty International), or pursuing environmentally damaging politics in the face of the catastrophic climate crisis?
The consequences of this decision must also be appreciated from the perspective of those who make sport what it is: The fans. Cricket forms a part of many people’s identity, and in what must be a most desperate time, which those not in Afghanistan can hardly fathom, to remove the only national cricket available for the masses at present would be damaging for those on the ground. That is not to say this compares with the distress the women who can no longer play sports are experiencing, but assuming the Taliban persists in spite of CA’s actions, having some cricket being played is better than none at all.
Finally, as the political consequences of the Taliban’s take over become apparent, a fine balance must be struck between isolating the new administration in Afghanistan as punishment, and maintaining channels for dialogue between foreign powers that hold differing values to our own.
If not now, when?
On the other side of the coin, there is the argument that it is better to take a stand, even in the face of hypocrisy, than not at all. There may be some compelling arguments for allowing Afghanistan cricket to continue playing, but if the international cricket community doesn't even try to challenge this action, then what hope at all do Afghani women have of ever overcoming the ban, and playing cricket once more?
How could this situation play out?
It is important to separate the theoretical and practical in this debate. Given ICC rules, it is unlikely Afghanistan will be allowed to continue playing Test Cricket. While the men's team has already received support from the Taliban, ICC rules state that all 12 full members must have a national women's team. Given that only full members are able to play Test matches, there would have to be a compromise on the ICCs part if the Australia test were to go ahead.
In a statement, the ICC said the following:
"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.
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."
With reports from BBC Sport regarding members of the women's team are in hiding in Kabul, with claims members of the Taliban have already come looking for them, a resolution in some form is needed. Regardless of the approach that is taken: The sooner it happens, the better.
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