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"Keep politics out...": Afghan star Rashid Khan rages as Australia refuses to visit country over Taliban crackdown

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After Australia withdrew from an upcoming series against Afghanistan in the UAE on Thursday, citing moves by the Taliban to further restrict women’s rights, the country’s cricketers are reacting strongly. The men’s team would play their Afghan counterparts in three ODI games in March following a tour of India. The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) in Kabul described Australia’s decision as “pathetic”. “The decision to withdraw … is unfair and unexpected and will have a negative impact,” the ACB said in a statement, which did not mention the shrinking rights of women in Afghanistan or the Taliban’s ban on women’s sport.

Afghan cricket star Rashid Khan also reacted strongly to this. “Cricket! The only hope for the country. Keep politics out of this. @CricketAus @BBL @ACBofficials,” he tweeted along with a photo, which had the text below.

“I’m really disappointed to hear that Australia have pulled out of the series to play us in March. I’m very proud to represent my country and we’ve made great progress on the world stage. This CA decision puts us back on that journey. so uncomfortable for Australia, so 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.”

The ACB said it would be in contact with the International Cricket Council and was considering withdrawing its players from Australia’s domestic Big Bash league in retaliation. Cricket Australia (CA) said its decision was made after discussions with the parties involved, including the Australian government.

“This decision follows the Taliban’s recent announcement of further restrictions on women’s and girls’ education and employment opportunities and their ability to access parks and gyms,” it said in a statement. “CA is committed to supporting the growth of the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan.

“(We) will continue to engage with the Afghan Cricket Board in anticipation of better conditions for women and girls in the country,” he said.

The matches against Afghanistan were part of the ICC Super League. Australia will lose 30 competition points for the series, which goes towards World Cup qualification.

However, they have already secured automatic qualification for the 50-over tournament in India later this year. Afghan ODI and test captain Hashmatullah Shahidi said that “the fans and people of Afghanistan who have suffered immensely due to the conflict … do not want politics to be brought into the sport”.

“Cricket is the most beloved sport in the country and one of the main sources of happiness,” he said on Twitter, urging CA to reconsider its decision.

‘Only reason to be happy’
Bowler Naveen-ul-Haq has already hinted that he would be leaving the Big Bash League, where he plays for the Sydney Sixers.

“When a country is going through so many difficulties to be supportive, you want to take away from it the only reason for happiness,” he tweeted. The Taliban regained control of Kabul in August 2021 and quickly began imposing restrictions on female participation in sport.

The Islamist radicals initially promised a softer approach than in their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, a period notorious for abuses of rights that included public executions and floggings. They gradually reintroduced an extreme interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, and women saw their rights evaporate as they were excluded from public life.

The Taliban banned teenage girls from attending secondary schools and last month banned women from attending universities, sparking global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities. They then decreed at the end of last month that Afghan women could no longer work for NGOs, at a time when Afghanistan is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with its population of 38 million hungry and three million children at risk of malnutrition.

Most government employees lost their jobs. Women are also banned from traveling without a male relative and have been told they must cover themselves in a burqa or hijab when out and about. In November, women were also banned from parks, amusement parks, gyms and public baths.

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