Opinion: The rules are clear, the ICC should strip Afghanistan of their Full Member status
@ovshake42 5 minute read
The ICC criteria for full membership is clear. Under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan no longer meet that criteria, writes Abhishek Mukherjee.
Despite not meeting a major criterion, Afghanistan continue to enjoy their Full Membership status at the ICC.
Since its foundation in 1909, the ICC has been glacial in the expansion of its Full Members ‘fraternity’. Until Bangladesh were added, there was a vagueness as to when the first ten members were inducted over the course of nearly a century, mostly based on invitation.
However, things began to change in the 21st century. When Afghanistan and Ireland attained Full Membership, it was because they followed a list of well-defined conditions. Well, at least Ireland did.
To obtain ICC Full Membership, teams must, according to Condition 1.2 of the ICC Operating Manual, organise “club cricket – adult, youth cricket, schools cricket, women’s cricket.”
Afghanistan became an ICC Full Member despite not having well-established infrastructure for women’s cricket. In 2014, the Afghanistan Cricket Board had even disbanded the national women’s team.
While rewarding Afghanistan with Full Membership, the ICC had perhaps counted on the steep rise of the men’s team from non-existence to a formidable unit, and had backed the board to plan a similar pathway for their female counterparts.
To be fair, the ACB did make some progress after that point. At the end of 2020, they hosted a training camp with 40 female cricketers and shortlisted 25 for central contracts. On their part, the ICC, in a partnership with UNICEF, raised US$ 180,000 to fund women’s cricket in Afghanistan.
But all that was before the Taliban takeover of Kabul, on August 15, 2021. That halted the progress of the women’s team. Not too long after that, Hamid Shinwari, the CEO of the ACB, told the BBC that he “expects the women’s team to be stopped”.
Despite being against any sport in general, the Taliban had ‘authorised’ cricket back in 2000. There were several reasons, including the fact that unlike other sports, whose “kit marked those who wore it heathens,” cricket gear “could be accommodated within the religious and cultural traditions of the country”.
Afghanistan men still play international cricket, but not the women, many of whom fled the country. It soon became evident that there was not going to be progress on that front.
Cricket has been at these crossroads before. Back in 1968/69, England cancelled their tour of South Africa in the aftermath of the latter’s refusal to accept Basil D’Oliveira as part of the touring squad.
The global cricket fraternity boycotted South Africa within the next couple of years, long before the Gleneagles Agreement of 1977. As one Rebel team after another toured South Africa in the 1980s, the stance of the authorities became more and more stringent.
The situation is not different at this point. Back then, the South African government had refused to accommodate non-white cricketers in their national team. At present, Afghanistan do not have any women’s cricket – let alone a national side.
That alone should have led to Afghanistan being stripped of its Full Membership status based on ICC’s conditions. There is precedence as well. Zimbabwe had faced the same fate in 2019 when they failed to provide a “process for free and democratic elections and to ensure that there is no government interference in its governance and/or administration for cricket respectively.”
Yet, despite multiple meetings, there has been no call on Afghanistan’s status on behalf of the ICC. They did set up a working group that “reported a total lack of women’s cricket activity”, but nothing came out of that.
Earlier this year, Cricket Australia pulled out of the three-match ODI series against Afghanistan in the UAE, scheduled for March.
Rashid Khan, the greatest name in the history of Afghan cricket, took field in the erstwhile Afghan national colours – and not Taliban colours – during the 2021 edition of the Hundred, and condemned the Taliban’s ban on university education of women in December 2022. He showed exemplary courage in both instances.
Yet, at this point, he threatened to pull out of the BBL after Australia’s decision, and several of his compatriots voiced similar intentions.
Roughly around the same time, Asad Ullah, an ACB director not too long ago, told ESPNcricinfo: that “There has never been a women’s team even before the Taliban came into power. There were a handful of girls playing cricket within their home as a recreational activity. It never made it onto the field because there was no real intent or platform.”
“Never made it onto the field” does not technically refute ACB’s earlier claim of hosting a camp or promising 25 central contracts, but it does raise questions regarding the progress of women’s cricket in the country even after Afghanistan became a Full Member.
Cricket Australia’s ‘boycott’ faced some criticism, a significant part of which involved concerns around the Afghan male cricketers. Yet, the same Australia had already played Afghanistan at the T20 World Cup, in 2022.
Contrast this with the West Indies’ boycott of the 1982 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand, who had hosted the banned South Africans for a rugby tour the year before. Or England Men conceding full points to Zimbabwe at the 2003 World Cup.
In reality, Cricket Australia took a selective stance, only after their qualification for the 2023 World Cup in India was guaranteed. Still, it cannot be denied that they have done more than the other boards have.
As for the ICC, they are nowhere close to finding a solution to the problem. If banning Afghanistan feels like an extreme measure, stripping them of Full Membership status is on the cards, and will be in accordance with their conditions.
But, if they actually reduce Afghanistan to an Associate Member (thereby reducing their grants significantly), or even ban them, will that even matter to the Taliban?
“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, told The Telegraph.
A suspension is unlikely to alter these views, but it will be a start.