Sport in Afghanistan faced an uncertain future after the Taliban took control of the country in August this year.
Hundreds of athletes, especially female athletes, have gone into hiding or have been evacuated from the country for fear of retaliation or of being rejected by the new Taliban government.
Those outside the country feared the worst, having seen a complete ban on women’s sport when the armed group controlled Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001.
A senior Taliban official was recently quoted as saying that women would be banned from sport in the country (although officials later claimed the statement had not been accurately translated from Pashto).
However, while the Taliban have spoken of inclusiveness in government, a moderate attitude towards women and a promise to continue sporting activities, current and former players remain skeptical and uncertain of what the future holds. their reserve.
Some women said they were fighting a losing battle to remain visible under the Taliban.
Al Jazeera spoke with the recently appointed chairman of the Afghanistan Cricket Board, Azizullah Fazli, on the security situation, preparations for the World Cup and the future of women’s cricket in the country.
Al Jazeera: There has been a lot of concern about the future of women’s sport, female athletes and the women’s cricket team. Have there been any directives from the Taliban government on what might happen?
Azizullah Fazli: We have spoken to the most senior officials of the Taliban government and their position is that there is officially no ban on women’s sport, especially women’s cricket. They have no problem with women who exercise. We were not asked to prevent women from playing cricket. We’ve had a women’s team for 18 years, although it wasn’t a major team, we’re not at that level yet.
But what we need to keep in mind is our religion and our culture. If women adhere to this [attire] it is okay for them to participate in sports. Islam does not allow women to wear shorts like other teams do when playing football in particular. This is something we have to keep in mind.
A Taliban official also recently said that sport and politics will remain separate and that those who understand the game and know the technique well will be appointed to relevant positions. The government has told us that it will support us in any way it needs to.
Al Jazeera: The past two months have seen drastic changes in the country’s political landscape. How has the sport been affected, including preparations for the T20 Cricket World Cup?
Fazli: In sport, we had no problem. We have been training and playing games for the past two months, even after the Taliban government came to power. They have stated that they support cricket and fully support the development of the game. I am a former cricketer and have been involved in cricket for almost 15 years. I was president in 2018-2019 and when I was recently brought back they assured me that there would be no political interference in cricket and the sport.
Al Jazeera: But has the situation and the fall of the previous government changed anything?
Fazli: The situation in Afghanistan is formidable. There is peace, no fighting except in isolated cases [such as a recent Kunduz attack where more than 50 people died in a mosque bomb attack]. These isolated cases are happening all over the world. In the months before the Taliban took power, we had hundreds of deaths every day. Now there is no war, no fighting. The security situation is excellent and the future is bright for Afghan cricket.
ACB is proud to have remained neutral in relation to current developments in the country. We continue to continue to develop cricket in our cricket loving nation. The excitement is unleashed as the T20 World Cup mega event approaches.
– Afghan cricket board (@ACBofficials) October 11, 2021
Al Jazeera: The International Cricket Council (ICC) has said it will review the situation in Afghanistan in a meeting shortly. There are also prospects of deportation for not having a women’s team as required by the ICC for all member states.
Fazli: When Afghanistan achieved full ICC membership in 2017, the criteria we were given had nothing to do with expulsion if we don’t have a women’s team. At that time, there were fights all over the country, the players lived far from Kabul and we told them how very difficult it was for us to have a women’s team. The ICC told us okay, we can work on the development and then consider having the women’s team. This criterion does not apply to us. We want to have the team, of course. People talk about the situation in Afghanistan in general. This is the political situation related to the government, not cricket.
Al Jazeera: You mentioned that you are appointed for three years. You have already held this position. What is your vision and what do you want to see Afghan cricket achieve during your tenure?
Fazli: I am a former cricketer, I understand the sport well and that is why I was renewed. To start with, we need two to three patterns at international standards. We need to improve our relations with full Member States and we need sponsors. We haven’t had a sponsor for two years. Now we have one for the World Cup, but I’m trying to get another big company involved.
During these three years, I want to develop a strategy for the next five years – including the development of national cricket and relations with other countries. We also want to support associate members, especially in our region. I have almost 20 years of experience in cricket and I know what it takes where.
My message to the world of sport is to use sport for peace. For decades Afghanistan was at war and then this incredible group of players emerged that rocked the world of cricket. It was great for cricket and for sport. Now there are more hopes from the team, from the country. As the security situation improves in Afghanistan, cricket will improve too.
the future, because their homes are foreclosed. I appeal to the leaders of the world; please don’t let afghanistan fall into chaos. We need your support. We want peace.#PeaceforAfghanistan #FreedomforAfghanistan #StopKillingAfghans
– Mohammad Nabi (@ MohammadNabi007) August 10, 2021
Al Jazeera: You mentioned relations with neighbors and Member States. Relations between the boards of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been uneven in the past. Where are things now?
Fazli: Sport works for peace. It is best to have a good relationship with your neighbors to achieve this. Ramiz raja [Pakistan’s new cricket chief and former cricketer] is a good friend, and we are talking. We are also in talks with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. They all supported us when we were not a full Member State. Pakistan is a neighbor, a brotherly Muslim nation. I’m happy if we get their support and they’re happy if they get our support. This is how it works.
There are so many Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Even I played in Karachi. It’s good for them. It was the political relationship between the two countries which was not great in the recent past, but we also had our players in the Pakistan Super League and now the situation is really good between us.