Taliban will welcome Australia’s cricket boycott

September 15, 2021
Afghanistan Mens National Cricket Team. Image: Wikimedia Commons

For many Afghans in post-9/11 Afghanistan, music and cricket became both a joy and an escape from the twin violence of United States occupation and Taliban terrorism. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), headed by Dr Ahmad Sarmast, who had returned from Australia to spearhead the project, produced some of the finest musicians, while its all-women orchestra attracted international attention.

Likewise, cricket brought pride and joy to the Afghans. Born in the refugee camps of Pakistan, Afghan cricket stars kept inspiring fans. Rashid Khan is considered one of the finest contemporary cricketers and Afghanistan achieved the status of a test match-playing team — considered the epitome of international cricket — in an impressively short span of time.

The conditions created by the US occupation spurred on Afghan women to seize every opportunity to reclaim their lost rights and opportunities. Hence, like other sports, Afghanistan also gate-crashed international women’s cricket.

Three weeks ago, when the Taliban overran Kabul, the ANIM fell silent as its musicians went underground or simply fled the country. For the Taliban, cricket is “haram” — forbidden. It is as un-halal as pork and wine.

Certain ultra-fundamentalists in Pakistan who administer the madrassas that have produced the Taliban (Taliban literally means madrassa students) consider cricket an un-Islamic satanic diversion. However, it is tolerated, since cricket, like football in Europe and Latin America, is the modern opiate of the masses. Moreover, cricketers are not considered "half-dressed" like footballers and many other athletes, and because of this are not deemed promiscuous by the Taliban.

In fact, soon after occupying Kabul a Talib commander invited the Afghan national cricket team to symbolically approve men’s cricket. However, the Afghan women cricketers had already gone into hiding.

If there were any illusions about women’s cricket, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, recently dispelled them in an interview with the Australian broadcaster SBS. Women’s sport is neither appropriate nor necessary, he decreed.

“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this. It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.”

In response, Cricket Australia (formerly the Australian Cricket Board) on September 9 cancelled a scheduled test match against Afghanistan’s men’s team (ironically, Australian cricket’s record on racism is not very impressive).

This solidarity gesture is timely and important, yet counter-productive. Solidarity action should not damage the very cause it is supposed to help.

The Taliban will be very happy to destroy every trace of cultural expression that brings joy to people. Their ultra-puritan vision of the world implies that everything Western, except technology that helps them oppress the people, is sacrilegious.

The sports they usually cherish are torture, stoning to death, public lashing of adulterers. Victims of their torture, if they survive, will tell you the pleasure the Taliban derive from torturing the "bad" Muslims who have strayed from the "true path" of Islam.

Let us be realistic. The Taliban will never allow Afghan women in any sporting arena. Once in control, their moral police will start raiding the underground gym and sporting facilities for women. It was no coincidence that gym-owners were among the first to arrive at Kabul Airport on August 17.

Therefore, boycotting Afghan cricket will only hurt whatever little cultural expression is possible under the ultra-puritan Taliban tyranny.

To rescue Afghan women’s cricket, the International Cricket Council (ICC) needs to devise viable alternatives. The Afghan women's playing-11 should be repatriated to England or Australia. Cricketing nations should also express solidarity by drafting Afghan cricketers.

During Apartheid, the West Indies and Asian cricketing nations like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka imposed a boycott on South Africa in response to a call for action by the African National Congress, a critical point.

Will this history of resistance be repeated in solidarity with Afghan women?

[An earlier version of this article appeared in the Swedish journal Tidningen Global.]

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