There is a big old elephant in cricket’s room — it is called Afghanistan.
- There are calls for the ICC to take action regarding Afghanistan
- The Afghanistan Cricket Board says it does not expect female participants to be affected under the Taliban’s rule
- Australia is set to postpone its upcoming Test against Afghanistan in Hobart
It is pretty hard to avoid seeing the elephant, given it is emblazoned with the insignia of the Taliban.
But some are managing to avoid eye contact with the pachyderm in the corner — the International Cricket Council (ICC), for example.
It has been well documented that the Taliban has said that women and girls would not be playing cricket under its regime.
That means Afghanistan should no longer be a member of the ICC under that organisation’s own rules.
And that is the position Cricket Australia (CA) has appeared to reach, given chief executive Nick Hockley said it was “most likely” the one-off Test between Australia and Afghanistan — set down for Hobart at the end of November — would be postponed.
‘We want to see cricket flourish in Afghanistan, and we want to see women and men’s cricket flourish in Afghanistan,” Hockley said last week.
“What we’re trying to do is establish all the facts on the ground and we’re also working closely with the Australian government.
“We’re in regular contact with the Afghanistan Cricket Board.”
The situation with the 25 women signed to national contracts with the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) remains unclear, although SBS has reported two of the women fled the country for Canada soon after the Taliban takeover.
But ACB chair Azizullah Fazli recently said it was all systems go as far as women’s cricket in Afghanistan was concerned.
“We have spoken to the top Taliban government officials and their stance is that there is officially no ban on women’s sport, especially women’s cricket,” he told Al Jazeera.
“They have no problem with women taking part in sport. We’ve not been asked to stop women from playing cricket.
“But what we need to keep in mind is our religion and culture. If women adhere to that, there is no problem in them taking part in sporting activities.”
Getting information about the whereabouts and welfare of the female Afghan players is exceptionally difficult.
In the meantime, Afghanistan men’s team is about to play its first match in the T20 World Cup, which is underway in United Arab Emirates and Oman.
The team is ranked among the top eight in the ICC men’s T20 rankings and boasts players of exceptional skill, such as leg spinner Rashid Khan, who is familiar to Australians thanks to his performances in the Big Bash League.
There remains the awkward possibility Australia and Afghanistan could meet in the tournament while CA is leaning towards not playing the side in a Test match.
But that prospect is an outside chance, given the two teams are drawn in separate pools. They would have to meet in a semi-final or final, which is unlikely based on form.
ICC ‘waiting to see how things unfold’
Why is Afghanistan playing at all — given the ICC’s rules — when so much is unknown about the status of the country’s women’s team?
Hockley said that was a matter for the ICC, which is kicking the can down the road as far as Afghanistan is concerned.
It is not due to meet until the end of the men’s T20 World Cup, most likely after Afghanistan is no longer in the tournament.
“We have said all along we are waiting to see how things unfold under a different regime in that country,” ICC interim chief executive Geoff Allardice said recently.
But there are those in the cricket community who are demanding more from the ICC.
Australian men’s Test captain Tim Paine is one.
“If teams are pulling out of playing against them and governments are not letting them travel to our shores, how a team like that can be allowed to play in an ICC-sanctioned event is going to be very hard,” Paine said on SEN last month.
Others are using even harsher language and demanding action, such as Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA) chief executive Tom Moffat.
FICA is the umbrella body for all player unions in cricket, including the Australian Cricketers’ Association.
“Any situation where women are denied their rights is unacceptable and although the situation in Afghanistan is bigger than cricket, to the extent people in our game are affected there is a requirement for cricket to act,” Moffat told the ABC.
“The ICC does not currently have a framework through which to approach this beyond treating it as a ‘member issue’. This approach is especially problematic when we know that the relevant member may be part of systemically denying people their rights.”
And while there has been a call from some quarters to boycott Afghanistan, that is not the first step according to Moffat.
“Before focussing on sanctions or non-participation in events, the ICC needs to make a commitment to protecting people’s rights — not just its members — and to working with affected stakeholders — including players — and their representatives towards that,” he said.
“The outcome in this case may end up involving sporting or economic sanctions, but the process of getting to that point is important.”
Retired Australian men’s Test captain Ian Chappell is trying to raise money to support refugees in Afghanistan.
He is one campaigner who does not think sporting sanctions will help.
“I don’t have a problem [with Afghanistan playing in the men’s T20 World Cup],” Chappell said.
Chappell does not place much stock in the reassurances the ACB had supplied the ICC.
“Obviously, you’re not going to believe too much of what the Taliban say,” Chappell said.
As for the Australian players, they are not spending any time thinking about Afghanistan’s place in world cricket, if star batsman Glenn Maxwell is anything to go by.
Maxwell said he had “not given it any thought” when asked about Afghanistan’s participation at the men’s T20 World Cup.
“There has been no discussion throughout the group,” Maxwell said.
ABC Sport has asked Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Sport Minister Richard Colbeck what advice the government had been providing for CA, but is yet to receive a reply.