Afghan women’s cricket team: The players hiding in Kabul fear Taliban rule


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A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with pictures of women mutilated using spray paint in Char-e-Now in Kabul on August 18, 2021.
A Taliban fighter passes by a beauty salon with distorted pictures of women in Kabul

Aseel and many of her international colleagues are in hiding. Aseel is not her real name. In Kabul, members of the Taliban have already come in search of Afghanistan’s women’s cricket team.

“Every woman who plays cricket or other sports is not safe now,” she says. “The situation is very bad in Kabul.

“We have a group on WhatsApp and every night we talk about our problems and share plans on what we should do. We are all hopeless.”

Aseel has barely left her home since the Taliban entered Kabul in mid-August and seized her cricket equipment. She explains how one of her colleagues in the city was targeted.

“The village where they play cricket, some people they know work with the Taliban. And when the Taliban came here and took Kabul, they threatened them saying, ‘We may come and kill you if you try to play cricket again,'” says Aseel.

Taqwa, who also uses a pseudonym, has been involved in Afghan women’s cricket for many years. She managed to flee the country after the fall of Kabul. The week before she was released, she moved house to house to avoid detection. The Taliban called her father, but he said he had not been in contact with her.

“I don’t want to think about what would have happened,” she says. “When the Taliban came to Kabul, I didn’t eat anything for a week and didn’t sleep.

“I wasn’t just thinking about myself, I was worried about my girls. They sacrifice their lives and their studies. Some didn’t even get married so they could play for Afghanistan. I’m so worried about their lives.”

For another former player, Harir, speaking again to the BBC using a pseudonym, playing cricket as an Afghani means much more than just taking a wicket and scoring goals.

“When I play I feel like a strong woman,” she says. “I feel confident and I feel proud of myself.

“I can imagine myself as a woman who can do anything, and who can make her dreams come true.”

But for Harir and the rest of the Afghan women’s cricket team, those dreams may have come to an end.

When there was so much hope a little less than a year ago, they now fear for their safety and feel deserted by sporting authorities who they believe can help them.

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The emergence of cricket sounded like a fairy tale in Afghanistan. The country was granted only associate membership by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2001, just one year after the Taliban lifted the ban on the sport. When the Taliban regime was overthrown soon after, cricket began to flourish, along with other sports such as football.

“If we look at the past 20 years, we have had war and suicide attacks, we had a lot of problems, but the only occasion where the whole nation was happy, and they got emotionally engaged… was during sports,” BBC Pashto editor Emal Pasarli said. sports office Podcast in August.

“Only the sport gave a time or a place where people were happy and could forget the rest of what was going on around them.”

Cricket fanaticism grew in Afghanistan during the 2000s as the men’s team began their rapid ascent on the world stage. When they qualified for the 2015 World Cup in Australia, street celebrations erupted across the country. In 2017, they were granted probationary status. Players like Rashid Khan and Muhammad Nabi are now international stars and are loved across the country.

Afghanistan’s first women’s national team was formed in 2010. They faced resistance from the start.

In the early years, the Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) banned the women’s team from playing in several international tournaments, saying it had received “threats from the Taliban”.

In 2012, the team traveled to participate in the six-team regional tournament in Tajikistan, and won it. But two years later, they folded. The Anti-Corruption Bureau again blamed Taliban threats for the decision.

Afghan girls play cricket on the school grounds in Kabul, December 28, 2010
Since 2010 – Afghan girls playing cricket on the grounds of their school in Kabul

Despite the team’s dissolution, the girls and young women continued to play on a temporary stake throughout Afghanistan. ACB still has a small number of staff responsible for arranging women’s matches.

But the same problems persisted for this new generation of cricketers.

Harir says many within the ACB were not supportive and would not arrange women’s matches unless they “begged them to do so”. She also said that board members were teaching women how to behave when they were out on the field.

“I’m a throwing player, and when I take a little gate I can’t scream and act like I’m glad there are guys watching me,” she says.

“I have to control my emotions, I can’t yell to support my teammates, I can’t support them. They say, ‘You shouldn’t celebrate, you shouldn’t yell or get hit in poses.'”

But as the men’s team image grew, ACB had to start taking the women’s game more seriously. The ICC requires 12 full members – Afghanistan became one in 2017 – to have a women’s national team. This resulted in 25 female cricketers being awarded contracts in November 2020.

Just 10 months ago, a new dawn appeared on the horizon for women’s cricket in Afghanistan. It seems that this hope did not last long.

During their previous rule, from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned almost all education of girls and women (girls were not allowed to go to school after the age of eight), while women were not able to work or leave the house without being accompanied by a man. male relative.

While the Taliban have made attempts to portray a more moderate picture this time around, the chances of women participating in sports are slim. ACB chief executive Hamid Shinwari said the Taliban had expressed their support for the men’s team, who now have approval to take their first-ever Test against Australia in Hobart in November. But he told the BBC he expected the women’s team to be suspended. This would violate Afghanistan’s membership in the International Criminal Court.

A US military plane prepares to leave Kabul airport with evacuees on board, on August 21
A US military plane prepares to leave Kabul airport with evacuees on board, on August 21

Afghan cricketers hope to escape Taliban rule like 50 It was evacuated by the Australian government in August. FIFA said it was “negotiating the complex evacuation” of soccer players and other athletes from Afghanistan.

“We are, as you would expect, in close contact with the Afghan Cricket Board and are monitoring the situation and providing our support,” an ICC spokeswoman said.

But Taqwa says the ICC has not been in direct contact with the country’s female cricketers and that the AFC has shown little concern for their well-being.

She adds, referring to Azizullah Fazli, who was appointed after the Taliban seized power: “The ICC never helps us, it always disappoints us. The ICC talks to those who oppose women’s cricket, such as the new ACB chief.”

Asked if the NFL still supports women’s cricket, Shinori said: “The future government will decide.”

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Despite the situation they find themselves in, Asel still believes that the team can meet again. Harir comes to life when she talks about her dreams for a better future.

“I want to become an international cricketer,” she says.

“I want to be a strong Afghan woman who can change the lives of others. I want to be a role model for other Afghan women and girls. I want to change the minds of at least some of the men in Afghanistan. I want to be proud of myself and that’s it.”

Aseel adds: “In Afghan culture, there are barriers that affect sports for women. They say women are weak and not designed to play cricket. They should marry, give birth, work at home and raise children. They should take care of their husbands.”

“In my family also, some relatives say that I cannot play because Islamic culture will not allow women to play cricket. But I like it.

“The situation is bad for us. But there is hope while we breathe. If we are taken out of the country and moved elsewhere, we will start over.”

We will not give up on our dreams, God willing [if Allah wills it]. “

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