Organised sport in Afghanistan faces a worryingly uncertain future under the new Taliban regime.
After the Taliban were removed from power in 2001, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the governing body of international cricket. This gave the Afghanistan national cricket team the right to play international fixtures and the proud cricketing nation has flourished ever since.
As of today, the Afghanistan national team holds the world record for the highest T20 score ever in an international match scoring a staggering 278/3 against the Irish in February 2019. Moreover, their success has transfixed the Afghani people and fans across the country view cricketing stars such as Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi as A-List celebrities.
However, it is important to note that although like all sports originally, cricket was banned, but that decision was swiftly overturned and became the only sport allowed by the Taliban in their rule from 1996-2001. Cricket has since become the most popular sport in the country and remains an important part of the country’s culture.
Cricket fans across not only Afghanistan but indeed the whole world will hope the Taliban still harbour their love for the game. A Taliban spokesman has said cricket will go ahead as normal in the country following their swift and ruthless takeover following the US’s decision to withdraw troops from the region. However, doubts remain over the safety of players and there have been conscious efforts by international cricket organisations to locate Afghani players who may still be trapped in the country.
Doubts also remain over the national side’s involvement in the T20 World Cup in October, although Hamid Shinwari, the ACB chief executive remains hopeful that life for Afghani cricketers will go on as normal. He believes there will be no disruption to the national team’s preparations ahead of the World Cup and is relying on the Taliban to ensure this. Shinwari, in a recent interview with the Indian Express, went as far as saying that “cricket flourished during the Taliban era”.
The same optimism will sadly fall on deaf ears concerning women’s cricket in the country. The Taliban notoriously are viciously against any women participation in sport and their first stint in power had banned it all with no exceptions. Even without the Taliban, women’s cricket has been almost non-existent. In 2012, the women’s team travelled to Tajikistan for a regional tournament which they won and hopes for a successful women’s national cricket team, like the ever-increasingly successful men’s team became a realistic possibility. Yet in 2014, just two years after the victorious tour to Tajikistan, the ACB cut funding and the women’s team was disbanded. The ACB blamed the decision on receiving threats from the Taliban.
Cricket is not the only sport that faces threats under the Taliban. Sport, in general, is frowned upon by the military organisation. Sports stadiums, playing host to football matches where Afghani children dream of playing in front of their friends and family were once used by the Taliban for public executions. They not only serve as areas of leisure and enjoyment but a chilling reminder of what the Taliban were like throughout their years in power at the end of the 20th Century.
The Taliban were to blame for Afghanistan’s ban from participating in the Olympic Games in 2000 as a result of their treatment of women. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is yet to announce what will happen for future Olympic Games for Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
Only recently, two Paralympic hopefuls from Afghanistan were denied the chance to fight for medals in Tokyo 2020 after their efforts to leave the country were hampered. Hossain Rasouli and Zakia Khudadadi had both set their sights on Paralympic glory in Tokyo yet after the chaos at Kabul International Airport in August, their preparation was in tatters and hopes of medals had vanished.
There are numerous stories like these, many of which will sadly remain untold, that summarises the fear that fans of organised sport in Afghanistan currently hold. Throughout what must have been an immensely difficult two decades in the country, sport served as a remedy to ongoing suffering. Sport brings people together and the people of Afghanistan need this now more than ever.
Early indications suggest the Taliban will be more lenient on sport this time around, however the fears of those involved remain. Much like sport, the Taliban are unpredictable, it is anyone’s guess as to what their stance on organised sport will be in the coming months. One thing is for sure however, all those involved in organised sport and providing it for the many millions that wish to take part should be praised and lauded for the work they have already done and hopefully the work that they will continue to do to help Afghanistan grow as a successful and proud sporting nation.