Women's cricket in Afghanistan: Lack of progress 'a concern' for ICC

"It's something our board will consider at its next meeting in March," says CEO Geoff Allardice, as Afghanistan remain only Full Member without a women's team

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Women's cricket in Afghanistan has been a complicated issue  •  Getty Images

Women's cricket in Afghanistan has been a complicated issue  •  Getty Images

Afghanistan's continuing lack of commitment to women's cricket has finally become a "concern" for the ICC, as the global body prepares to stage its first Under-19 Women's T20 World Cup later this week. Afghanistan are the only Full Member to not be represented at the event in South Africa, in which 16 teams are participating. Well over a year after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, women's cricket has not made any headway at all in the country and signs are that it won't in the near future, compelling the ICC to take up the matter at its next board meeting in March.
The global governing body had formed a working group to review cricket in Afghanistan following the Taliban's takeover of the country in 2021. The group, chaired by the ICC deputy chair Imran Khwaja, met with Afghanistan government and cricket officials in November last year, including the Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen. The government reportedly reiterated its commitment to comply with the ICC constitution, including agreeing in principle to support the development of women's cricket.
But in reality nothing has been done to encourage women to pick up the game, even when they made a formal effort to expand their domestic structure and take cricket to new regions. There are six tournaments across all formats for men's cricket, from age group to senior level. But as yet, there has been no investment in women's cricket, and Afghanistan is the only cricketing nation to have Full Member status without satisfying one of its basic requirements: a fully operational women's team.
And prospects have become bleaker recently, after the Taliban regime ordered an indefinite ban on university education for girls, which, according to the ICC CEO Geoff Allardice, is concerning.
"Obviously, the recent developments [banning higher education for girls] in Afghanistan are concerning," Allardice said during a virtual press conference. "Our board has been monitoring progress since the change of regime. It is a concern that progress is not being made in Afghanistan and it's something our board will consider at its next meeting in March. As far as we are aware, there isn't activity at the moment."
Since the Taliban took over, many women have fled - or sought to leave - the country. A number of women were working in the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) headquarters in Kabul, but are no longer coming into the office. Several have reportedly gone overseas.
"Women's cricket in Afghanistan has always been a burning issue and I don't see there is a solution right now," Asad Ullah, until recently a director with the ACB, told ESPNcricinfo. "There will be a cultural challenge and we hardly have a pool of players in the country. In fact, there has never been a women's team even before the Taliban came into power. There were a handful of girls playing cricket within their home as a recreational activity. It never made it onto the field because there was no real intent or platform.
"There hasn't been any interest at all. Definitely they can play, if they want to, but in Afghanistan, it was not an option for girls. There is a big number of girls who left the country thinking that they won't have the freedom to play sports. But are they playing sports in Australia or elsewhere? I don't think so. They left for a better future which is their right but cricket among girls in Afghanistan hasn't been popular anyway and it hasn't been encouraged either.
"It is largely because of the lack of acceptance about women going out. ICC should understand the dynamics in the country and it's not something they can enforce and government can implement at once. It takes time. Every country operates within their own law. There are certain things that aren't open as in western society."
ESPNcricinfo has written to the ACB seeking its official stance on women's cricket but has not yet received a response.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent