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Afghanistan's status as ICC Full Member unlikely to be affected

The matter is set for wider discussion at the next ICC board meetings in March when the ICC's working group on Afghanistan will provide an update on progress in the country

Osman Samiuddin and Tristan Lavalette
Afghanistan not having a women's team has raised questions about their status as an ICC Full Member  •  Getty Images

Afghanistan not having a women's team has raised questions about their status as an ICC Full Member  •  Getty Images

Despite dim prospects for an Afghanistan women's team being formed so long as the Taliban remain in power, Afghanistan's status as an ICC Full Member is unlikely to be affected.
The matter is set for wider discussion at the next ICC board meetings in Dubai in March, when the ICC's working group on Afghanistan will provide an update on progress in the country. ESPNcricinfo understands that the group, headed by the ICC's deputy chair Imran Khwaja, will push for not penalising Afghanistan's status and shed greater light on the difficulties the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) faces in pushing to develop the women's game.
Khwaja has met with ACB officials and government representatives in Doha twice in recent months, to get a clearer handle on the broader situation for cricket since the Taliban took over, as well as how women can be helped to play cricket. Those meetings are believed to have been "productive", according to one official who attended.
At the second meeting, in February, the ACB assured the ICC's working group that the board remains supportive of women's cricket, but the political reality meant that an overt push for it could still prove dangerous for those involved.
"Afghanistan is a delicate situation," Ross McCollum, an ICC board member (Ireland) and member of the working group, told ESPNcricinfo. "The guys from ACB do want to see things happen with women's cricket. But it's not down to them, it's down to the people in charge.
"Forcing women to play cricket could lead to serious repercussions. We have to tread carefully, it will be a slow process.
In December the Taliban banned secondary and higher education for females through the country, the latest manifestation of their repressive policies against women. The ICC working group was told, however, that there are differences in opinion within the Taliban about the role of women in society and that there exist exemptions which allow women to work in the medical sectors. That has not yet come through for any sports.
Even before the Taliban takeover, little progress had been made on women's cricket in the country. In October 2020, the ACB had held a national team trial camp and announced their intention to award 25 central contracts for women. Cultural sensitivities, officials pointed out at the time, were such that quicker, deeper progress was proving difficult and Afghanistan had been a Full Member for three years then.
The working group has been told that the Taliban are not interfering otherwise in the running of the ACB. The government has apparently provided some funding to a board that had been hit hard after the Taliban took over, as international sanctions made it difficult to send money into the country.
Changes to status for Full Members, in any case, are rare and none other than Zimbabwe have ever been suspended or had membership downgraded. But the fact that Afghanistan continues to be the only Full Member without a women's team, or even a set-up in place - otherwise part of the ICC's membership criteria - has been persistently highlighted in recent months.
They were the only member to not have a presence at the pathbreaking U19 T20 Women's World Cup in January and then at the T20 Women's World Cup right after. That point was not lost on the ICC CEO, Geoff Allardice, who said ahead of the U19 tournament that it was concerning no progress had been made on the matter.
FICA, the global players' body, has also called the ban on women's sport a "significant blow" and pointed out that Afghanistan is "in breach" of its Full Member requirements. But it did not call for a ban on Afghanistan, instead calling on the ICC to "embed its human rights responsibilities as a business in its governance and regulatory frameworks."
A number of Afghan women cricketers have also been very clear in calling for the ICC to play a more proactive role. According to ABC Radio's The Ticket, 22 of the 25 cricketers who were part of that original pool have left the country and resettled in Australia. Speaking on the show in January, several of the players asked why the ICC had not been in touch to offer support since they fled.
"If we have the support of the ACB, the ICC, the people of Afghanistan and other countries that play cricket, then it is possible for us to keep playing," one of the players, Firooza Afghan said on the show.
"In Australia we have a lot of support - lots of equipment and facilities. But my question is, women have been playing cricket in Afghanistan since 2010 … why did the ICC not send anyone to check on us?"
The players wrote to the ICC a couple of months ago, asking for ways in which the global body could help the women form a team. The ICC pointed out that constitutionally any such help would have to go through the member - the ACB - but intend to keep the dialogue open with the cricketers.
And considerable thought has been given to the matter within ICC management as it stands, including the idea of funding a women's team outside of Afghanistan, and one that runs outside of ACB approval. That only represents initial exploratory thinking on the subject and actioning it would require buy-in from the ICC board.
On that platform, support and understanding for the ACB remains. At a recent Asian Cricket Council (ACC) meeting, members reiterated their support. Pakistan, in fact, have agreed to play a three-match T20I series with Afghanistan, to fill the hole left by Australia's cancellation of an ODI series.
Cricket Australia is the only board to have publicly acted in response to the Taliban's policies. They first postponed a one-off Test they were to host Afghanistan in - the first the two countries would have played - and more recently cancelled the ODI series, in response to the education ban imposed on females.
Most other ICC Full Members have remained silent on the matter so far, though the majority still see the rise of Afghanistan's men's team as a fairytale that should be allowed to continue and grow, rather than be curtailed.
"It needs to be discussed seriously (at board level)," McCollum said. "Each Full Member will have their own interpretation. I don't think it's a straightforward decision because it's complex and there are ramifications."