Australia’s men’s cricket team has withdrawn from a series of upcoming matches against Afghanistan in protest over the ruling Taliban’s restrictions on women and girls’ education and employment, Cricket Australia (CA) said in a statement Thursday.
The teams were scheduled to play three One Day International (ODI) games in the United Arab Emirates in March, but CA decided to cancel the series after “extensive consultation” with “several stakeholders including the Australian government,” the statement said.
“CA is committed to supporting [and] growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country,” it added.
In December, the Taliban announced the suspension of university education for all female students. The move followed a decision in March to bar girls from returning to secondary schools, coming after months-long closures that had been in place since the hardline Islamist group took over Afghanistan in August 2021.
Later that month, the Taliban ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stop their female employees from coming to work, warning that non-compliance would result in the revocation of their licenses.
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) responded to CA’s decision on Thursday, describing it as “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, as well as affect[ing] the love and passion of the Afghan nation for the game.”
The ACB said it was considering what action to take on the matter, including the possibility of writing to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and “rethinking the participation of Afghan players” in Australia’s domestic Twenty20 competition, the Big Bash League (BBL).
The ACB statement followed comments from prominent Afghan player Rashid Khan.
Khan, who played for the Adelaide Strikers in this year’s BBL, accompanied a statement on Twitter with the words: “Keep politics out of it.”
“I am really disappointed to hear that Australia have pulled out of the series to play us in March,” Khan wrote.
“I take great pride in representing my country and we have made great progress on the world stage. This decision from CA sets us back in that journey.
“If playing vs Afghanistan is so uncomfortable for Australia then I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence in the BBL. Therefore I will be strongly considering my future in that competition.”
CA had previously backed out of a proposed Test match against Afghanistan due to be hosted in Tasmania in November 2021 over the Taliban’s ban on women participating in sports.
“Driving the growth of women’s cricket globally is incredibly important to Cricket Australia. Our vision for cricket is that it is a sport for all, and we support the game unequivocally for women at every level,” CA said at the time.
Australia’s sports minister Anika Wells on Thursday said Canberra supports Cricket Australia’s move.
“The Australian government welcomes Cricket Australia’s decision to withdraw from the upcoming men’s One Day International series against Afghanistan, following the Taliban’s increased suppression of women and girls’ rights,” she tweeted.
Although the Taliban repeatedly claimed it would protect the rights of girls and women, the group has done the opposite, stripping away the hard-won freedoms for which women have fought tirelessly over the past two decades.
The United Nations and at least half a dozen major foreign aid groups have said they are temporarily suspending their operations in Afghanistan following the ban on female NGO employees.