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Australia to cancel Afghanistan cricket match if Taliban bar women

Australia's first-ever cricket test match against the Afghan men's team won't happen if the Taliban don't backtrack reports of banning women from the sport.

Afghanistan cricket team players board a bus from a local hotel

The Afghan men's cricket team was due to face Australia's in November for the first time

Australia's cricket board on Thursday said it would cancel a scheduled test match against Afghanistan's men's team if the Taliban barred women from playing the sport.

Last week, the Taliban approved Afghanistan's first cricket test since their takeover. But a Taliban member was quoted as saying by media that he did not think the new regime in Afghanistan would allow women to play cricket.

Australia's first-ever test match against Afghanistan was due on November 27 in Hobart, the capital of the Australian island state of Tasmania.

'No alternative' but to cancel match

Cricket Australia (CA) said it saw driving the growth of women's cricket globally as "incredibly important."

"Our vision for cricket is that it is a sport for all and we support the game unequivocally for women at every level," the governing body said in a statement.

"If recent media reports that women's cricket will not be supported in Afghanistan are substantiated, Cricket Australia would have no alternative but to not host Afghanistan for the proposed Test Match due to be played in Hobart." 

Australia slams 'appalling ruling'

Australian Sports Minister Richard Colbeck called the prospect of a halt to women's cricket in Afghanistan "deeply concerning."

"Excluding women from sport at any level is unacceptable," he said in a statement carried by Australian broadcaster SBS. "We urge international sport authorities, including the International Cricket Council (ICC), to take a stand against this appalling ruling."

The ICC, which is cricket's international governing body, also raised concerns about reports of the ban. 

Afghanistan players celebrates a victory during the 2020 ICC U19 Cricket World Cup

Cricket is a widely popular sport in Afghanistan, and the country has been a member of the ICC since 2017

'They might face a situation where their face will not be covered'

The Taliban had banned most forms of entertainment during their rule of Afghanistan in the late 1990s. 

Since the fundamentalist Islamist militants returned to power, concerns over women's rights have been mounting. 

"I don't think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket," SBS quoted the deputy head of the Taliban's cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, as saying.

"In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this."

Afghan women fear dark days ahead as Taliban return to power

Wasiq added that people would "watch" Afghan women since "it is the media era, and there will be photos and videos."

"Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed."

After seizing power in Afghanistan, the Taliban had said they would respect women's rights but only "within the limits of Islam," or rather their interpretation of them.

fb/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)