Taliban loves cricket. Yes, you read it right! The insurgents, who seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the U.S. was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war, will purportedly not interfere with the activities of the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB).
ACB CEO Hamid Shinwari recently said that cricket will not be a casualty in the wake of drastic political change in Afghanistan.
"Taliban loves cricket. They have supported us since the beginning. They did not interfere in our activities," Shinwari told news agency PTI. "I don't see any interference and expect support so that our cricket can move forward. We have got an active chairman, I remain CEO until further notice," he added.
For the unversed, cricket's rise in the war-torn country coincided with Taliban's rule between 1996 and 2001 with many Afghan refugees in Pakistan picking up the sport. Star cricketer Rashid Khan was one among the many refugees who started playing the game in the neighbouring country.
"It can be said that cricket flourished during the Taliban era. It is also a fact that many of our players practised in Peshawar and they made the sport mainstream in Afghanistan," said Shinwari. "The good thing is that we are heading towards normalcy. The people have started working. We will resume our office and the national camp," added Shinwari.
Talking about the players safety, he said: "Other than four or five players who are playing overseas the rest are all in Kabul. Like I said, they are safe and doing fine." He also assured that the members of the national team and their families are safe after the Taliban took over the reins of the country.
The ACB CEO further claimed that the board has not received any requests from any of the cricketers to evacuate their families. He also confirmed that Afghanistan is preparing for their upcoming series against Pakistan.
“It is a baseless rumour. No one has come with such an intent. I’ve been managing the cricket board since the Taliban has taken over and they’ve been so supportive so far. I haven’t received any request so far and the players are committed to play the game and fortunately since last two days, they started their camp to get ready for the upcoming series with Pakistan," Shinwari told Sports Tak. "We and the players are committed to playing this series with Pakistan which is vital for the Afghans across the globe,” he added.
Afghanistan is all set to play against Pakistan in a three-match ODI series starting from September 3. The matches will be played in Sri Lanka owing to the security concerns in both the countries. The matches were shifted to the island nation as stadiums in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are preparing to host the remainder of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 season which was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, amid chaos at the Kabul airport, Afghan national cricket team players attended a training session at the Kabul International Cricket Ground in the capital city on Saturday.
Women's cricket under Taliban possible?
Even as the Taliban don’t have any problem with men’s cricket, the future of women’s cricket seems uncertain under their rule. Recently, the Taliban had urged women to join the government and claimed that it would respect women’s rights "within the framework of Islamic law". However, the insurgents haven't given any clear indication of how they will treat women’s sports.
Recently, the ACB awarded national contracts to 25 female players, but their career as professional cricketers is now in serious jeopardy.
Speaking to the Sports Desk podcast, Shinwari said: “I think it (women's cricket) will be stopped – that is my assumption. I really don’t know what the position in the future will be. We have kept the salaries and they are on our payroll. If the government decides that we don’t go with the national women’s team, we will have to stop it."
During Taliban's previous rule, the women were largely confined to their homes. They had stopped girls from receiving any form of education, while women were unable to work or leave the house without being accompanied by a male relative.
Meanwhile, in its first press conference after taking over, the Taliban have sought to portray themselves as more moderate than before. However, the world remains skeptical.