Australia pulls out of Afghanistan series

Australia has pulled out of its upcoming men's ODI series against Afghanistan citing further restrictions on women's rights imposed in the country by the Taliban.

Australia had been set to meet Afghanistan in the United Arab Emirates for three matches in March but, following consultation with the Australian Government and other stakeholders, Cricket Australia (CA) has decided to scrap the series.

But the decision has prompted anger in Afghanistan, with the country's cricket board slamming the Australian move as "pathetic" and adding it would rethink the participation of Afghan players in the Big Bash League if the decision was not reversed.

When capital city Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, the extremist group banned women from playing sport on the grounds that doing so would contravene Islamic laws requiring their hair and skin to be covered.

In a statement on Thursday, CA said the decision to withdraw from the men's ODI series followed recent Taliban restrictions placed on women's and girls' education and employment opportunities and their ability to access parks and gyms.

"CA is committed to supporting growing the game for women and men around the world, including in Afghanistan, and will continue to engage with the Afghanistan Cricket Board in anticipation of improved conditions for women and girls in the country," CA said.

"We thank the Australian Government for its support on this matter."

The Afghanistan Cricket Board said it was "extremely disappointed and saddened by the pathetic statement" from Cricket Australia and it would complain to the International Cricket Council.

It accused CA of prioritising political interests over fair play and sportsmanship, undermining the integrity of the game, and damaging the relationship between the two countries.

"Cricket has played a significant role in promoting unity and national pride in Afghanistan," the board said.

"After years of war and conflict, cricket has helped to bring people together and provide a sense of normalcy to the country. It has also been an important source of hope and inspiration for all Afghans, particularly young people."

Afghan fast bowler Naveen ul Haq Murid called the decision "childish" and accused Australia of taking away Afghans' only reason for happiness instead of being supportive.

The cancellation of the series comes after Australia cited similar reasons for scrapping a one-off Test against Afghanistan that had been set to be played in Hobart in November 2021.

In December, the Taliban banned women from completing higher education, having prohibited attendance at gyms and parks a month earlier.

According to the United Nations, women are also banned from attending school beyond the sixth grade and working most jobs outside of their homes.

In November 2021, the ICC formed a working group aiming to support and review women's and men's cricket in Afghanistan but more than a year later, the country remains the only full member of the ICC without a fully operational women's team.

ICC CEO Geoff Allardice said this week that recent crackdowns were worrying.

"Our board has been monitoring progress since the change of regime," he said.

"It is a concern that progress is not being made in Afghanistan and it's something our board will consider at its next meeting in March."

The cancellation limits Australia's match practice ahead of October's ODI World Cup to a five-match series against South Africa and a three-match series against host nation India.

with The AP