Afghan cricket and the Taliban
Extract from letter to Nigel Adams MP, Foreign Office Minister of State with responsibility for Afghanistan and British “soft power”. And cricket-lover.
I am writing to urge you to take an interest in the future of Afghan cricket and cricketers if and when the Taliban reassume control of the country.
One might be optimistic about men’s cricket there, which the Taliban authorized in the past. Afghanistan’s astonishing rise in the international rankings over the past twenty years and the consequent popularity of men’s cricket all over the country might induce a new Taliban régime to leave the sport alone.
But that will not be true of women’s cricket, which has already been stifled by the Taliban. The women and girls who have managed to play cricket in the country will face real danger.
Moreover, there are strong grounds to fear for the future of male cricketers too. The Taliban may turn on everyone in the country who is seen as a collaborator with the central government and the Western world. In case you have not seen it, I draw your attention to the feature “Taliban Watch” by “Dr Grim” in the current edition of Private Eye, which carries that message in stark terms. Male cricketers could well be seen as agents of Western influence and values and be persecuted on that basis. Those who have played internationally or overseas at any level may fall under special suspicion. If allowed to play on, they may face very restrictive conditions and be compelled to adopt and expound the ideology and values of the Taliban. That will be especially true for boys and students if they are allowed to go on playing cricket at all.
As you will know, the Taliban is not a unified movement but a network with many strands. Local cricketers could easily fall under the control of an extremist faction and subjected to vicious discipline and punishments. There may well be protracted local power struggles and civil wars. The collapse of central government and such public services as exist in Afghanistan may make local life unbearable, and not only for cricketers. The Taliban has also provided a haven for racketeers, traffickers and criminals of all kinds. Cricketers who are better-off than the general population may become targets for extortion. This could happen to Afghanistan’s top international cricketers, through their families.
I write with no first-hand knowledge of Afghan cricket or the Taliban, only from what I have read and a few personal contacts with Afghans and others who know about both. However, I am certain that you could find quick confirmation of all of these points.
I therefore ask you first to keep a close eye on conditions for Afghan cricket and cricketers and to make these a factor in framing future British policy on Afghanistan.
If things go as badly as I think they might, I hope you will urge on Priti Patel (like yourself a cricket-lover) that our country should become a haven for Afghan cricketers of all ages and genders – and that pending determination of their claims to remain they should be allowed to play or coach cricket here for money or accept payment as umpires and scorers or any other cricket-related function. They could do a great deal for cricket at many levels in our country. They could especially help to promote cricket in hard-to-reach communities, not just the existing Afghan community. They might help also to introduce cricket to other countries, as an extension of British soft power. Again, you will know how much Afghans have contributed to German cricket in recent years.
Finally, a Taliban régime will undoubtedly assert its control over the Afghanistan Cricket Board. Of course this will not be a direct problem for the government: the International Cricket Council will have to respond to it and the England and Wales Cricket Board might also have to take a stand. But it throws light on an issue which has recurred in international sport for nearly a hundred years: what should happen when a country subjects its own sportspeople collectively, or significant populations of them, to discrimination and oppression? Should other countries allow them to continue in international sport and export their systems and values within it? In my view, international sports administrators have had a very poor record of dealing with these questions, and they are in any case too important to be left to them alone.