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Australia withdraws from Afghanistan cricket series due to Taliban restrictions on women

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Australia’s men’s cricket team withdrew from a series of matches against Afghanistan in protest against Taliban restrictions on the education and employment of women and girls, Cricket Australia (CA) said in a statement on Thursday.

The teams were scheduled to play three One Day International (ODI) games in the UAE in March, but CA decided to cancel the series after “extensive consultation” with “various stakeholders including the Australian Government”, the statement said.

“CA is committed to supporting [and] increasing 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 better conditions for women and girls in the country,” he added.

In December, the Taliban announced the suspension of university education for all female students. The move follows a decision in March to prevent girls from returning to secondary schools, after months of closure since the radical Islamist group took control of Afghanistan in August 2021.

Later that month, the Taliban ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to prevent their female employees from coming to work, warning that non-compliance would result in their licenses being revoked.

The Afghan Cricket Board (ACB) responded to the 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 good 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 affecting[ing] the Afghan nation’s love and passion for sport.”

The ACB said it was considering what action to take on the matter, including possibly 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).

ACB’s statement followed comments by prominent Afghan player Rashid Khan.

Khan, who played for the Adelaide Strikers in this year’s BBL, followed a statement on twitter with the words: “Keep politics out of this”.

“I am really disappointed to hear that Australia have dropped out of the series to play us in March,” wrote Khan.

“I am very proud to represent my country and we have made great strides on the world stage. This decision by CA puts us back on that journey.

“If playing Afghanistan is so uncomfortable for Australia then I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable with my presence in the BBL. So I will be strongly considering my future in this competition.”

CA had already pulled out of a proposed test match against Afghanistan, which was to be held in Tasmania in November 2021, due to the Taliban’s ban on women taking part in sports.

“Driving the growth of women’s cricket globally is incredibly important to Cricket Australia. Our vision for cricket is a sport for everyone and we unequivocally support the game for women at all levels,” CA said at the time.

Australian sports minister Anika Wells said on Thursday that Canberra supports Cricket Australia’s move.

“The Australian Government welcomes Cricket Australia’s decision to withdraw from the upcoming One Day International men’s series against Afghanistan following increased suppression of women’s and girls’ rights by the Taliban,” she tweeted.

While the Taliban has repeatedly stated that it would protect the rights of girls and women, the group has done the opposite, stripping away the hard-won freedoms that women have fought tirelessly for the past two decades.

The United Nations and at least half a dozen major foreign aid groups have said they are temporarily suspending operations in Afghanistan following a ban on female NGO workers.