Afghan athletes live in fear of the Taliban

Tuba Jan Sangar was in his office at the Afghanistan Cricket Board last month when his manager called. “He said, ‘Where are you?’ He just told me to go home, “Sangar said.” Everyone was afraid that the Taliban would kill us. I didn’t sleep for a week and didn’t eat anything. “

For seven years, the 28-year-old Sangar has worked to build women’s cricket in the country, from building school-level teams to finally being signed to the national team last year.

But as Taliban fighters streamed into Kabul, Afghanistan sealed their victory and spelled out the possible end of women’s rights to education, work and sports. Sangar and his colleagues, who had been fighting the resistance of Afghan society for many years, were devastated.

She is now in Canada with her family, one of many female athletes and sports officials has been removed. Many more live inside Afghanistan, fearing for their lives and the future of sports in the country, one of the success stories of 2001.

“Cricket is not just a game for Afghans. Everyone loves cricket, ”Sanger said. “There is no hope now. Our players, our staff, they are stuck in Kabul. They are just worried about their own lives. ”

The Taliban, who imposed sports bans during their rule in Afghanistan in the 1980s, have relied on the support of athletes as a basis for their aggressive attacks. But it is not yet clear whether women, who have been banned from playing sports while in power, will be allowed to continue playing at all.

Refugees from Pakistan bring cricket back to Afghanistan with them © Stringer / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

How the Taliban will deal with sports in Afghanistan will prove to be an important test of what kind of society they want to create and whether their promises of moderation and reform will come true. It is also unclear whether the international success that athletes like the men’s cricket team have enjoyed can continue under the Taliban. Australia has threatened to cancel a test in November if women are not allowed to play.

Indian sports writer Sharda Ugra says the Taliban want to make sports their “potemkin village”.

“Cricket is their big currency to deal with the world. “Their response to cricket will be important whether they want to be involved with the rest of the world,” he said.

“If they say,‘ We don’t care what the world thinks of us, ’then everyone will be destroyed together.

“The scary thing is they play the right game and can do a lot by moving away from others [things]. ”

When they first ran in Afghanistan, the Taliban banned games such as chess and buzkashi, a traditional traditional game where horse-riding teams competed for control of goat carcasses. Others, such as football, were allowed to continue, although Islamists used the stadium to execute people.

Cricket has gained popularity in recent decades, with Pakistani refugees in Pakistan such as the national prophet, national team veterans, and superstar players like Rashid Khan emerging in the post-Taliban era. Afghanistan became a full member of the International Cricket Council in 201 Cricket and played a Test against India a year later.

Former Afghan women's soccer captain Khaleda Popal at the Farum Park Stadium in Denmark

Former Afghan women’s soccer captain Khaleda Popal has helped dozens of women athletes flee the country through Ritzau ScanPix / AFP Getty Images

Women’s sports have also increased, the country is sending athletes to the Olympic Games and forming international teams.

“Our players are workers. . . Women’s football has become very political in Afghanistan, ”said Khaleda Popal, former captain of the Denmark-based women’s national football team. “They were in great danger, not just from the Taliban, but from men in government and society who hated women’s participation.”

When the Taliban regained control last month, they quickly introduced themselves as sponsors of the sport, sending leaders to meet with athletes and organizing everything from cricket matches to wrestling competitions. The group has appointed masters-educated Talib Nasibullah Haqqani as chief executive of the cricket board.

Attempts to present a more moderate image of the Taliban through retaliatory killings and public execution of alleged perpetrators have been repeatedly opposed.

Their athletes had little relief for many athletes. Stars like Khan have publicly expressed fears and frustration over the Taliban’s takeover, when Zaki Anwari, a young footballer, died last month after being stranded on a U.S. eviction plane.

PayPal and others organized efforts to remove mass resources, helping many female athletes move out of the country.

The Taliban have given a mixed message on whether women will be allowed to continue playing sports. International bodies such as the ICC and FIFA, however, have not commented on whether they would allow the men’s team to play if women were banned.

But while the Taliban have already barred women from working and educating, there is little doubt about what can be expected of Afghan athletes.

“Here, women can never go to sports. No and never, ”said one of the women’s cricketers, who is still in the country but hoping to leave. “The men’s cricket team makes a lot of money, so [the Taliban] It will promote. ”

“If they want us to wear long dresses and play, we’ll accept all of that,” he added. “It hurts when your dreams are shattered. I don’t want my dreams to go unfulfilled. Not just mine. It is. . . My whole team dreams of playing again. ”

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