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Hiding in Kabul – the cricket gamers who worry for his or her lives

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Shar-e-Naw in Kabul on August 18, 2021
A Taliban fighter walks previous a magnificence salon with defaced pictures of ladies in Kabul

Asel and lots of of her worldwide team-mates are in hiding. Asel is not her actual identify. In Kabul members of the Taliban have already come searching for Afghanistan’s girls’s cricket crew.

“Every woman playing cricket or other sports is not safe right now,” she says. “The situation is very bad in Kabul.

“We’ve a gaggle on WhatsApp and each night time we’re speaking about our issues and sharing plans about what we must always do. We’re all hopeless.”

Asel has barely stepped outside her home since the Taliban entered Kabul in mid-August and has locked her cricket kit away. She explains how one of her team-mates was targeted in the city.

“The village the place they play cricket, some individuals who knew them are working with the Taliban. When the Taliban got here right here and took Kabul they threatened them, saying, ‘We might come and kill you for those who attempt to play cricket once more,'” Asel says.

Taqwa, who is also using a pseudonym, was involved in Afghan women’s cricket for many years. She managed to flee the country after Kabul fell. In the week before she got out, she moved from house to house to avoid being detected. The Taliban called her father, but he said he had not been in contact with her.

“I do not need to take into consideration what would’ve occurred,” she says. “When the Taliban got here to Kabul, for per week I did not eat something, I did not sleep.

“I was not only thinking about myself, I was worrying about my girls. They are sacrificing their lives, their studies. Some even didn’t get married so they could play for Afghanistan. I’m very worried about their lives.”

For one more former participant, Hareer, once more talking to the BBC utilizing an assumed identify, taking part in cricket as an Afghan lady meant excess of simply taking wickets and scoring runs.

“When I play I feel like a strong woman,” she says. “I feel confident and I feel proud of myself.

“I can think about myself as a lady who can do something, who could make her desires come true.”

But for Hareer and the rest of the Afghanistan women’s cricket team, those dreams may well have come to an end.

When just under a year ago there seemed to be so much hope, now they fear for their safety and feel abandoned by the sporting authorities they believe can help.

Short presentational grey line

The rise of cricket had seemed something of a fairy tale in Afghanistan. The country was only granted affiliate membership by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2001, just a year after the Taliban lifted a ban on the sport. When the Taliban was overthrown soon after, cricket began to flourish, along with other sports like football.

“If we glance into the final 20 years, we had warfare, suicide assaults, we had so many issues, however the one event when the complete nation was blissful, they have been emotionally concerned… was throughout sport,” Emal Pasarly, editor of BBC Pashto, informed The Sports Desk podcast in August.

“Solely sport gave a time or a spot the place individuals have been blissful and so they might overlook about the remainder of what was happening round them.”

Cricket fanaticism in Afghanistan grew throughout the 2000s as the men’s team began a meteoric rise on the world stage. When they qualified for the 2015 World Cup in Australia, street celebrations broke out across the country. In 2017, they were granted Test status. Players such as Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi are now international stars and are adored across the country.

Afghanistan’s first national women’s team was formed in 2010. They faced resistance from the start.

In the early years the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) prevented the women’s team from playing at several international tournaments, saying it received “Taliban threats”.

In 2012 the team did travel for a six-team regional tournament in Tajikistan, and they won it. But two years later they folded. The ACB again blamed the decision on Taliban threats.

Afghan girls play cricket on the school grounds in Kabul on December 28, 2010
From 2010 – Afghan ladies taking part in cricket on their college grounds in Kabul

Despite the team disbanding, girls and young women continued to play on makeshift wickets across Afghanistan. And the ACB still had a small number of staff responsible for arranging women’s matches.

But the same problems persisted for this new generation of female cricketers.

Hareer says that, within the ACB, many were not supportive and would only arrange matches for the women if they “begged them to do it”. Members of the board would also school women on how to behave when they were out on the pitch, she says.

“I am a bowler, and after I take a wicket I am unable to shout and act like I am blissful as a result of there are males watching me,” she says.

“I’ve to regulate my feelings, I am unable to shout to help my team-mates, I am unable to help them. They are saying: ‘You should not rejoice, you should not shout or strike poses.'”

But as the profile of the men’s team grew, the ACB had to start taking the women’s game more seriously. The ICC requires its 12 full members – Afghanistan became one in 2017 – to have a national women’s team. This led to 25 female cricketers being awarded contracts in November 2020.

Just 10 months ago, a new dawn appeared to be on the horizon for women’s cricket in Afghanistan. That hope appears to have been short lived.

During their previous rule, from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban prohibited almost all education for girls and women (girls were not allowed to attend school after the age of 8), while women were unable to work or leave the house without being accompanied by a male relative.

While the Taliban has made attempts to portray a more moderate image this time around, the chances of women being able to partake in sport are slim. The ACB’s chief executive officer, Hamid Shinwari, has said the Taliban have voiced support for the men’s team, who now have approval to play their first ever Test against Australia in Hobart in November. But he told the BBC he expects the women’s team to be stopped. This would violate Afghanistan’s ICC membership.

An American military plane prepares to depart Kabul airport carrying evacuees, on 21 August
An American army aircraft prepares to depart Kabul airport carrying evacuees, on 21 August

Afghanistan’s girls cricketers are hoping to flee Taliban rule just like the 50 feminine athletes who have been evacuated by the Australian government in August. Soccer’s world governing physique Fifa has mentioned it’s “negotiating the advanced evacuation” of footballers and other athletes from Afghanistan.

A spokeswoman for the ICC mentioned: “We’re, as you’d count on, in shut contact with the Afghanistan Cricket Board and we’re monitoring the scenario and have supplied our help.”

But Taqwa says the ICC have not been in contact directly with the country’s women cricketers and that the ACB have shown little interest in their welfare.

“The ICC by no means assist us, they all the time disappoint us. The ICC is speaking with these people who find themselves towards girls’s cricket, like the brand new ACB chairman,” she adds, in reference to Azizullah Fazli, who was appointed after the Taliban takeover.

Asked if the ACB still supports women’s cricket, Mr Shinwari said: “The long run authorities will determine.”

Short presentational grey line

Despite the situation in which they find themselves, Asel still believes the team could come together again. Hareer comes to life when she talks about her dreams for a better future.

“I need to be a global cricket participant,” she says.

“I need to be a powerful Afghan lady who can change different individuals’s lives. I need to be a job mannequin for different Afghan girls and ladies. I need to change at the very least a couple of males’s minds in Afghanistan. I need to be pleased with myself and that is all.”

Asel provides: “In Afghan tradition, there are limitations that have an effect on sport for girls. They are saying that girls are weak and will not be constructed to play cricket. They should get married and provides delivery and work from home and convey up the kids. They have to deal with their husbands.

“In my family too, some relatives say I cannot play because an Islamic culture will not let a woman play cricket. But I love it.

“The scenario is dangerous for us. However there’s hope whereas we’re respiration. If we get taken from the nation and brought elsewhere we are going to begin once more.

“We will not give up on our dreams, inshallah [if Allah wills it].”

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