There has been much consternation in the cricket world since Taliban spokesman Ahmadullah Wasiq last week told Australian broadcaster SBS that the militants who seized power in Afghanistan when they overran Kabul last month. intended to forbid women’s sports in the country in accordance with their harsh interpretation of Islam.
Cricket Australia (CA) responded to the news by: to announce that they would cancel their scheduled Test match for men ‘if the recent media reports that women’s cricket in Afghanistan will not be supported.’
Human Test Captain Tim Paine went even further with comments of his own cast doubt on Australia’s willingness to face Afghanistan at the upcoming T20 World Cup. The ICC has declared itself ‘Worried’ about the development. There have also been calls in the media to Afghanistan’s Expulsion of Test Cricket, with comparisons to South Africa’s isolation during apartheid.
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To be clear, there is no doubt that the Taliban is establishing a repressive regime that severely curtails the freedom of all Afghan citizens, especially women. Amnesty International has issued numerous warnings about existing human rights violations by the Taliban and the imminent threat of more. However, the fact that the cricketing community is pretending the non-existence of Afghan women’s cricket is a new development is evidence of a credulity that is frankly beyond belief, and no small measure of hypocrisy at the administrative level.
The Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) disbanded its women’s team (started only in 2010) in late 2014, citing increasing pressure from Taliban threats and other cultural problems in the highly conservative country. When Afghanistan was promoted to full membership in 2017, the ACB was granted an exemption from the ICC development criteria related to women’s cricket. This exemption was knowingly approved by all FM boards of the time, including Cricket Australia. And since the ICC and its full members have all explicitly allowed the ACB to continue without a women’s team, it becomes somewhat absurd to see them now using the non-existence of a women’s team as a justification for punishing the ACB.
If CA was serious about its claims of involvement in the women’s game, why not use their considerable influence in the ICC boardroom to oppose the exemption? And then why schedule a men’s test against a nation they knew didn’t have a women’s team? The fact that they’re just taking action now smacks of hypocrisy and a PR team looking for an easy win rather than a position of principle.
Yes, the ACB gave assurances that they were in the process of restarting their women’s team once they were promoted. But with potentially $40 million in ICC funding at stake and no enforcement mechanism, it would be staggeringly naive to accept such promises outright. Everyone involved can reasonably be expected to know it was a fudge. There was of course the much circulated press release announcing plans as of 2019 to form a squad, but considering they never played a match and never even released a team list, it’s hard to believe they took that project seriously. It is also worth noting that the only organized women’s competitions in the country since 2014 have been played outside the auspices of the ACBs.
And with current ACB chairman Hamid Shinwari now openly stating that the current situation is ‘not substantially different’ environment under the Western-backed governments of Karzai and Ghani, it seems increasingly clear that the Taliban’s mistake was not to ban a non-existent team, but to drop the pretext of having that team. If that’s the red line for cricket, it’s a morally empty line.
What to do? It is true that merely pointing out hypocrisy is not productive in itself. And there is indeed a reasonable argument for canceling the Test at short notice. But what now? The rampant double standards should give us a break to think more broadly about the approach to crickets beyond this particular situation.
While there are no easy answers, it would be too easy to simply outlaw a poor, isolated nation with little geopolitical influence and move on. Principles that are applied only when it is politically convenient are not true principles, and the difficult positions that are not taken draw moral authority from the easy ones. If we in the cricket community are to raise our voices for human rights, we must take this opportunity to look carefully at the situation and consider how we can push for meaningful and far-reaching change. There are several practical, though increasingly difficult, steps that can be taken.
First, the boards that granted Afghanistan Full Membership without meeting their women’s requirements could honestly admit the error rather than cover up their complicity by talking about “insurance” that they were almost certain to be meaningless. And to prevent that mistake from happening again in the future, they could also push for the removal of the “cultural and religious reasons” exemption currently included in the ICC membership criteria, allowing Afghanistan to be an official cricket tournament for two decades. play. nation while making minimal effort to develop women’s cricket. Because it makes no sense to dismiss “recent media reports that women’s cricket will not be supported in Afghanistan”, when that has been the status quo for almost their entire existence as ICC members (indeed they were admitted for the first time to the ICC when the Taliban were still in power in 2001). The ACB has only moved from not supporting women’s cricket because of their own willful passivity to not supporting women’s cricket because of an edict from the government.
Second, there must be a coherent approach to boycotts and bans. If Afghanistan is faced with the boat for not having a women’s program, how can Saudi Arabia still be an ICC member in good standing? More generally, if the problem is that they don’t comply with the ICC’s membership rules, what steps have been taken to ensure compliance? For example, if the rules around government interference in cricket were strictly enforced, would there be any signs left at all? There are many inconsistencies, and it seems that the only enforcement mechanism is that the FM boards vote against themselves.
If, on the other hand, Afghanistan is banned for off-the-field reasons (i.e., because of an unwillingness to legitimize the Taliban), what level of human rights violations will the ICC tolerate?
This is not intended as an exercise in whataboutism, but rather to emphasize that cricket must produce a clear set of standards that it intends to uphold, along with an independent mechanism to verify and enforce them. For example, if authoritarianism and curtailed political freedoms merit sanctions, the ICC could work with the UN human rights organization or other independent observers such as Freedom House to analyze civil rights. If outright violent repression is the red line, perhaps it could work on Amnesty International’s reports. Implementing a system around this premise would be difficult, devilish ones, because it would pose difficult questions to many existing ICC members. But if we take cricket seriously to uphold human rights, we should find the moral imagination to find ways to make the game a leader in the field. The alternative is to muddle through on a case-by-case basis, with the only time action being taken is when it aligns with FM governing’s self-interest.
This, of course, leads to the third area where full members could campaign for reform if they are serious about responsibility for nations doing the wrong thing: independent government. Ultimately, any proposal to penalize a member will always fail unless a majority of the ICC board votes to approve it. This board, which now contains at least a few votes from outside, is still dominated by the representatives of the ordinary members (who make up 12/17 of the seats).
So unless we trust the turkeys to always take a principled stance in favor of Christmas, we need an ICC that has the power to make tough decisions. There is already a model for this the Woolf report, which recommended a major structural reform of the ICC, including greater independence from the interests of powerful FMs. Despite the ICC’s mandate nearly a decade ago, many of his observations remain relevant to cricket governance: “The ICC board is currently dominated by full members, with the result that board representation comes mainly from countries playing tests. As a result, “decisions are supposed to be made in the best interest of the 10 and not the 95.” Although there are now 12 full members, the dynamics remain the same.
So when the ICC gathers for its next board meeting in November, there will be many thorny questions to answer regarding Afghanistan’s position in the cricket community. There is a real chance that October’s T20 World Cup will be the last time their national men’s team takes to the field for the foreseeable future. But with Afghan society on the brink, the cricket community shouldn’t settle for a self-glorifying PR win – instead, it should use the situation as a catalyst for real reforms that can advance human rights in all its members. .
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