Hamid Shinwari, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) chief executive, has issued an impassioned plea to Cricket Australia, asking it for "considered, balanced, cricket diplomacy" instead of a "sudden knee-jerk reaction" when it comes to possibly cancelling the scheduled Test match between the two nations if women are not allowed to play the sport under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Saying that the ACB had received the CA update with "shock and immense disappointment", Shinwari asked CA to look at the political and cultural situation in Afghanistan with a lens similar to the one used by ICC over the years.
"Since the ACB joined the International Cricket Council (ICC) and through our fast growth through affiliate, associate and to full membership, the ICC has been aware of our cultural and religious environment," Shinwari wrote in a press statement. "It has taken a balanced, diplomatic, sensitive and considerate approach as we have worked to develop every aspect of the game of cricket in our country despite the situations we have faced.
"We believe that the ICC has had the forethought to recognise and accept that we have been doing all we can to grow cricket in the traditional cultural, religious and changing political environments of our country. The alternative to cancellation of the Test match would be for CA to take the same approach as the ICC. A considered, balanced, cricket diplomacy would be far more productive for Afghanistan and for cricket than a sudden knee-jerk reaction.
"CA need to know that the comments of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan spokesperson regarding women's participation in cricket are not substantially different to the ACB's cultural and religious environment during the [democratically elected] Karzai and Ghani governments over the last 20 years. We believe that the ICC is fully aware of this, although it seems CA is not."
"The ACB is powerless to change the culture and religious environment of Afghanistan. If the CA decides to cancel the Test match and isolate the Afghan men's national team, it will have no impact upon those cultural and religious values as they stand"Hamid Shinwari, ACB CEO
Afghanistan are scheduled to play their first Test against, and in, Australia from November 27 in Hobart. But following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and a statement from a senior functionary of the group that indicated Afghan women would not be able to take part in sport, several Australian politicians, including sports minister Richard Colbeck, suggested that the Test would not go ahead. That had followed concerns raised by Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein earlier in the week.
In a statement earlier this week, CA said, "If recent media reports that women's cricket will not be supported in Afghanistan are substantiated, Cricket Australia would have no alternative but to not host Afghanistan for the proposed Test match due to be played in Hobart." The Australian Cricketers Association has also issued a statement "unequivocally" endorsing CA's stance.
Afghanistan are the only Full Member to have earned that status without having an operational women's team in place. Last year, the ACB had announced their first contracts for women as they looked to build a team.
"The development of women's cricket has been slow in Afghanistan, just as it was for other more traditional cultures: India in the 1970s; in Pakistan in the 1990s when women's cricket was at first declared illegal and players had death threats; in Sri Lanka in the late 1990s; and in Bangladesh not until the early 2000s," Shinwari wrote. "Nonetheless, there has been a quiet but significant development of women's cricket over the past 10 years in girls-only schools where cricket is an integral part of the health education process."
The ICC, meanwhile has said that Afghanistan's status in the international game would be discussed at the next board meeting but that is not scheduled until November, which has raised questions about their participation in the upcoming T20 World Cup in October-November.
Asking CA not to take away "a treasured gift to the people Afghanistan" and for the cricket world at large to "keep the door open for us, walk with us, do not isolate us and avoid penalising us for our cultural and religious environment", Shinwari added, "The ACB is powerless to change the culture and religious environment of Afghanistan. If the CA decides to cancel the Test match and isolate the Afghan men's national team, it will have no impact upon those cultural and religious values as they stand. The spokesman for the government has unequivocally stated this.
"We are concerned that, if other countries' cricket administrators follow CA, then Afghan cricket will be alienated from the cricket world, the development of cricket in our country will be stalled and, even more concerning, cricket may cease to exist in Afghanistan."