Australia’s men’s cricket team has pulled out of the upcoming series against Afghanistan to protest the ruling Taliban’s restrictions on the education and employment of women and girls, Cricket Australia (CA) said on Thursday.
The teams were scheduled to play three One Day International (ODI) matches in the United Arab Emirates in March, but CA decided to cancel the series after “extensive consultation” with “several stakeholders including the Australian government,” it said in a statement.
“CA is committed to support [and] is developing the game for women and men around the world, including Afghanistan, and will continue to work with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of better conditions for women and girls in the country,” she added.
In December, the Taliban announced the suspension of higher education for all female students. The move follows a decision in March to ban girls from returning to secondary schools following months of closures that have been in place since the radical Islamist group took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.
Later that month, the Taliban ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to prevent their female employees from going to work, warning that failure to comply would result in their licenses being revoked.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) reacted to the CA’s decision on Thursday, calling it “pathetic” and “an attempt to enter the realm of politics and politicize the sport”.
“By prioritizing political interests over the principles of fair play and sportsmanship, Cricket Australia is undermining the integrity of the game and damaging the relationship between the two nations,” the statement added.
“The decision to withdraw from playing the upcoming ODI series against Afghanistan is unfair and unexpected and will have a negative impact on the development and growth of cricket in Afghanistan and will also affect[ing] the Afghan people’s love and passion for the game.”
The ACB said it was considering what action to take on the matter, including writing to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and “re-evaluating the participation of Afghan players” in Australia’s domestic Twenty20 competition, the Big Bash League (BBL).
The ACB’s statement followed comments by prominent Afghan player Rashid Khan.
He was accompanied by Khan, who played for the Adelaide Strikers in this year’s BBL statement on Twitter with the words: “Don’t interfere in politics”.
“I’m really disappointed that Australia pulled out of the series to play us in March,” Khan wrote.
“I am proud to represent my country and we have made great progress on the world stage. This decision from the CA puts us back on that path.
“If it’s so uncomfortable for Australia to play against Afghanistan, then I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence in the BBL. Therefore, I will strongly consider my future in this competition.”
CA had previously backed out of a proposed Test match against Afghanistan in Tasmania in November 2021 due to the Taliban’s ban on women participating in the sport.
“Supporting the growth of women’s cricket around the world is incredibly important to Cricket Australia. Our vision of cricket is that it is a sport for all, and we unequivocally support the game for women at all levels,” CA said at the time.
Australian Sports Minister Anika Wells said on Thursday Canberra supported Cricket Australia’s move.
“The Australian Government welcomes Cricket Australia’s decision to pull out of the upcoming men’s One Day International series against Afghanistan after the Taliban stepped up its crackdown on the rights of women and girls,” she tweeted.
Although the Taliban has repeatedly claimed to protect the rights of girls and women, the group has done the opposite, stripping away the hard-won freedoms women have fought tirelessly for over the past two decades.
The United Nations and at least half a dozen major foreign aid groups have announced they are temporarily suspending their operations in Afghanistan following a ban on female NGO workers.
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