Opinion: Cricket’s response to Afghanistan has been woeful – the ECB and CA should withdraw from the ICC in protest
The ICC have failed to support women in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover, it’s time for the ECB and Cricket Australia to withdraw from the governing body completely – write Raf Nicholson and Megan Maurice.
Sport can be a powerful tool in international diplomacy – it is now widely acknowledged that the sporting boycott of South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s helped bring about the end of apartheid. But on the basis of their latest Board meeting (which concluded yesterday), the International Cricket Council – who led the way in the South Africa boycott – don’t feel that the rights of women are worth making a stand about.
According to the United Nations, access to sport is a human right. Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, women have been denied that right – along with many other rights, including the right to education (both secondary and higher education for women were banned in December). Yet the ICC, who awarded Afghanistan Full Member status in 2017, continue to fund the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) to the tune of millions of dollars a year.
According to the ICC’s own rules, Full Member status is meant to be conditional on having a women’s cricket team in place – Afghanistan are clearly not meeting this requirement. When the Taliban took over, members of the national women’s cricket team were forced to flee for their lives.
Action should have been taken immediately after the takeover. But all the ICC did was set up a toothless working group, which has continually reported a total lack of women’s cricket activity, while simultaneously recommending that nothing be done to penalise Afghanistan for this.
Even so it was hoped that, with repression against women becoming worse every day, the ICC Board might finally take a stand. But their Board meeting concluded yesterday with the announcement that, yet again, no action would be taken against Afghanistan – exactly the same situation which has prevailed for the past 19 months.
To add insult to injury, the ICC has reportedly actually agreed to an expansion in their “technical cooperation” with the ACB and to a significant increase in the ACB’s budget. Not only are the ACB not being penalised for their lack of activity in developing women’s cricket, they appear to actually be being rewarded for it.
Some at the ICC will protest that this is justified – any other course of action jeopardises the current non-interference of the Taliban with the running of the ACB. The Taliban are said to care deeply about cricket, and are keen to see its men’s team continue to shine on the international stage. Well, good. Hit them where it hurts.
And yet it’s clear, now, that some of the men who sit on the ICC Board – made up of representatives of all Full Members – are unwilling to take a stand in support of the women of Afghanistan, however bad the situation gets. So what can individual cricket boards do to make a stand?
Cricket Australia recently pulled out of a men’s tour to Afghanistan – after being accused by the ACB of “playing politics”, CEO Nick Hockley said: “Basic human rights is not politics.” Hockley is right. So we urge CA, the England & Wales Cricket Board, and all other cricket boards around the world who care about women’s cricket to go one step further than a one-off tour cancellation – and withdraw from the ICC altogether.
Some will say that this is a step too far, when any action on the Afghanistan issue would simply serve to penalise those playing men’s cricket in Afghanistan. If that sounds familiar, it’s because people said the same when a boycott of South Africa was suggested. They’re as wrong now as they were then.
It’s easy for boards to say that they support women’s cricket. The BCCI are currently hosting the first ever Women’s Premier League – showcasing the talents of the world’s best cricketers in an extravaganza of wealth. The ECB say that making cricket a gender-balanced sport, with women’s and girls’ voices properly represented, is one of their key priorities. CA are in charge of one of the greatest women’s sports teams that has ever existed – and have achieved that based on consistent investment at all levels of the women’s pathway. It’s time for those governing cricket to put their money where their mouths are, and turn their backs on the global governing body in protest at its inaction over a fundamental human rights issue – whatever it costs.
It might cost a lot, in the short term. It could mean the loss of bilateral tours, which in turn may lead to the TV companies who have paid for the coverage of those tours demanding compensation. It could mean the loss of opportunities to host ICC events like World Cups. For individual players, it could mean the loss of opportunities to play in lucrative overseas franchise leagues.
But by refusing to engage with the ICC until Afghanistan is held accountable for its actions, individual boards can help put pressure on the ICC to take action. It worked in the 1980s. It can work again.
As two of the leading women’s cricket journalists in England and Australia, we implore the ECB and CA to act now. We’ve waited long enough. #CricketIsAHumanRight – it’s time to take a stand for the women of Afghanistan.