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Afghanistan's Naveen-ul-Haq (centre) celebrates the dismissal of Bangladesh's vice-captain Taskin Ahmed during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 Super Eight match at Arnos Vale Stadium in Arnos Vale, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on June 24. Image Credit: AFP

London: Members of the Afghanistan women’s cricket team effectively disbanded after the Taliban returned to power three years ago, have urged officials to help them reform as a refugee side based in Australia.

The Afghanistan men’s team have captivated cricket fans worldwide by their rapid rise to the game’s Test-match elite, with Rashid Khan’s side also reaching the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup last week.

But their success has led to a renewed focus on how women’s competitive sport in Afghanistan has collapsed since the Taliban regained power.

As one of just 12 Test-playing teams, Afghanistan are required to have a women’s team under International Cricket Council regulations.

But the ICC have so far resisted calls to suspend Afghanistan from international competition for failing to field a women’s side.

ICC officials have instead said they are mandated to work through their member boards, leaving the Afghanistan women’s team frozen out from the world game.

But the women cricketers contracted by the Afghanistan Cricket Board the year before the Taliban took over attempted to end the deadlock in an open letter to ICC chairman Greg Barclay published on Monday.

‘Profound sadness’

“We, the formerly contracted players of the Afghanistan women’s team, are proud and excited by the achievements of Afghanistan at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup and wish to congratulate Rashid Khan and his team on reaching the semi-finals,” the letter said.

“A profound sadness remains that we, as women, cannot represent our country like the male cricketers.

“We are asking the ICC to assist us in setting up a refugee team in Australia. It could be administered by the East Asian Cricket office based at Cricket Australia.

“Through this team we aim to represent all Afghan women who dream of playing cricket but are unable to in Afghanistan.”

Following the Taliban takeover, a number of Afghanistan women cricketers fled the country for Australia, where they play for local club teams.

They accept any new side cannot be recognised officially as an Afghanistan national team, but have called on the ICC to help them establish and run a “cricket team without borders”.

Showcase talent

“Our goals in having a refugee team are to develop and showcase our talent, give hope to the women remaining in Afghanistan, and to draw attention to the challenges women of Afghanistan face,” the letter said.

“Like the Afghanistan men’s team are afforded, we aim to compete at the highest levels.

“We want to recruit and train girls and women who love cricket, to show the world the talent of Afghan women and to demonstrate the great victories they can achieve if given a chance through the leadership and financial support of the ICC.”

The Taliban government has imposed curbs on women and girls condemned by the United Nations as “gender apartheid” and has not been recognised by any country since its 2021 takeover, complicating Afghanistan’s role in international sport.

Nevertheless, a gender-balanced team of three men and three women will represent Afghanistan at this month’s Olympic Games in Paris, although all the female competitors are based outside the country.