Playing World Cup match makes Cricket Australia’s previous Afghanistan stance look like a boycott of convenience

Cricket Australia has opened itself up to accusations of virtue signalling and a boycott of convenience by being content to play Afghanistan at the World Cup but not wanting to play them at other times. 

It’s easy to show your contempt for the country’s treatment of women and lack of a program for female cricketers when you want to lighten your playing schedule but when there are two points on the line at a World Cup, it’s acceptable to play Afghanistan.

This view was also articulated by Afghanistan fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq who posted on social media: “Refusing to play the bilateral series, now It will be interesting to see cricket Australia stand in the WorldCup #standrads (sic) #humanrights Or 2 points”

It’s an interesting subplot heading into Tuesday’s clash at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and the match has plenty of meaning with Afghanistan still in the semi-final hunt after winning their past three matches following an early upset of England. 

Despite rising to third with five straight victories, third-placed Australia are still not guaranteed a semi spot, needing a win over Afghanistan or Bangladesh in their last group game. 

Cricket Australia’s execs cancelled (or merely postponed if you believe the corporate spin) what was set to be the first Test against the Afghanistan men’s side at Hobart in November, 2021, claiming they felt it was necessary “until a later time when the situation is clearer”.

Naveen-ul-Haq takes a dig at Cricket Australia for refusing to play bilateral series against Afghanistan because of ruling Taliban’s restrictions on women and girls’ education and employment.

— CricTracker (@Cricketracker) November 4, 2023

A three-match bilateral ODI series in March of this year was also canned because of CA’s stance but the Australian men’s team did take on Afghanistan last November during the World Cup at Adelaide Oval. 

To be clear, it’s admirable for a sporting organisation to take a stand when the easy option is to pass the buck to the federal government, which has a history for rarely being definitive in such matters irrespective of which party is in power.

CA chief executive Nick Hockley made it known before the World Cup that there was never any chance of Australia boycotting this match despite the previous decisions to refuse to play them at home and abroad. 

He said in an ABC radio interview it was a pre-condition to compete in an ICC event like the World Cup to “fulfil all of your scheduled matches”.

“We chose not to play our last bilateral series against Afghanistan. I think it’s really important to remember the context of that time was that there had been a very significant curtailment of women’s rights in Afghanistan,” he said in reference to the Talbian regaining power in the war-torn nation and banning women from playing cricket under Islamic law. 

“We consulted extensively at that time and I really think that ICC events, as compared to playing a bilateral one-on-one, are a bit different and certainly through that consultation process we foreshadowed that we had an upcoming World Cup that Afghanistan were more than likely to qualify.

Rashid Khan appeals for the wicket of Liam Livingstone. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

“A bilateral series is under our auspices and we are very committed to making sure we support the growth of cricket for women and girls all around the world, including in Afghanistan.”

Former Australian Test opener Ed Cowan, emphasising he was playing the role of devil’s advocate, debated recently on The Grandstand Cricket Podcast that “morals are morals” and argued there was no variation between playing a nation in a bilateral series or an ICC event.

“Making a stand only is really worth making a stand if you’re willing to lose something,” he said.

“Giving up three games of bilateral cricket is mere virtue signalling in many respects. If you’re serious about making a stand isn’t this the moment?

“You’ve got to be very careful about what you say and how it plays out in the future. I’m unsure Cricket Australia should have come out and said what they did because now I think they look slightly silly.”

Australia are not scheduled to play them again until Afghanistan is due to host a three-match T20 series in August next year at a neutral location for safety reasons. 

They are pencilled in to host a Test in July or August of 2026, likely to be at a venue in North Queensland or Darwin.

Hockley would not say whether CA would continue its boycott with a decision to be made closer to the time of the scheduled fixtures.

“We have made it very clear what we stand for – that we’re a sport for all. We want to make Australians proud,” he said. 

“Our hope is that working with the ICC and Afghanistan Cricket Board that their women’s program will be able to, over time, re-establish and we can resume playing bilateral cricket.”

South Africa was on the receiving end of the most famous sporting boycott of all when the nation was banned from the Olympics from 1964-1988 due to the apartheid policies of its then white minority government. 

If you apply the Cricket Australia logic to that boycott, does that mean it still would have been acceptable to play South Africa in a sporting contest at a globally sanctioned event but not in bilateral competition?

Thankfully that did not happen during the apartheid era.

Rashid Khan and Hashmatullah Shahidi celebrate after their win over Pakistan. (Photo by Matthew Lewis-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Discrimination is discrimination, whether it’s based on race, gender or any other factor. 

And while the Afghanistan men’s team flourishes and earns respect for its efforts in doing well at a global tournament, many of the nation’s top female players have fled the country following the demise of the women’s program. 

The ICC needs to be held accountable for its typical paper tiger stance during this ongoing issue.

All 12 full member nations are supposed to have a fully functioning women’s program but the world governing body has conveniently turned a blind eye to Afghanistan. 

The ICC set up a “working group” two years ago to address the issue and has repeatedly been in contact with the Afghanistan Cricket Board but no progress has been made. 

As hard as it would be to tell a nation that only earned full Test status six years ago that it is losing that right, that’s exactly what the ICC should do. 

Otherwise nothing will be solved and the Afghanistan men’s team will continue to gain acceptance while their female counterparts will likely never get the chance to do likewise.

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