Working group to submit findings about Afghanistan women’s cricket to ICC this week

Working group to submit findings about Afghanistan women's cricket to ICC this week

Tumult in the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) appears to have quelled, but there remains uncertainty over women’s cricket as findings into a “complex” situation are set to be shared at the ICC board meeting on April 10.

It led to calls for Afghanistan to be culled from the 2021 T20 World Cup and sparked debate over whether their Full Membership should be stripped. Cricket Australia postponed last November’s historic men’s Test with Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan have continued playing international cricket and the ICC has preferred to wait until a working group tasked with investigating the situation provided its findings. Chaired by board veteran Imran Khwaja, the working group – which also includes Ross McCollum (Ireland chair), Ramiz Raja (Pakistan chair) and Lawson Naidoo (SA chair) – has liaised several times since its formation in November, interviewing past and present officials and closely monitoring developments at ACB.

According to sources, in what is set to be its only recommendation to the ICC board, the working group has found 33-year-old Afghanistan allrounder Mirwais Ashraf’s appointment as chairman to be in compliance with the ACB and ICC constitutions. If accepted by the board then Ashraf will become an ICC board director.

There was upheaval at the ACB in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover, with warring factions within the board trying to seize power for themselves. It culminated with Ashraf replacing Azizullah Fazli, who was in charge for just two months.

“There needs to be stability within ACB,” a former ACB official who was interviewed by the working group, told ESPNcricinfo. “The chairman is meant to be in the role for three years. There needs to be clear directions (by the ICC) to the government that the constitution and procedures need to be met.

“I told them (working group) that Afghanistan cricket shouldn’t be sabotaged because of the Taliban’s takeover of the country.”

While there has been governance concerns and continual uncertainty over women’s cricket, revoking Afghanistan’s Full Membership was never really an option given their men’s team serves as a powerful symbol of hope and inspiration.

“How can we punish the ACB for something they didn’t do?,” said an official with knowledge of the situation. “That’s out of the question. It’s not fair to pull the carpet out considering the progress they have made in developing Afghanistan cricket. If we start doing that then we have to banish half the (ICC) members.”

Development and pathway structures for women’s cricket are part of strict criteria for Full Membership. When Afghanistan received it in 2017, an exemption was invoked on the proviso that they take active measures to develop women’s cricket. Before the Taliban takeover, the ACB had announced central contracts for a pool of women cricketers though they were still some way off fielding a team.

“There is no way to know if women’s cricket is developing there right now,” an official familiar with the situation said. “The ACB is saying that women are still allowed to play. Indication is that the ACB is trying. Every country has an obligation to develop women’s cricket.”

“Women’s cricket was moving in the right direction prior to the situation changing,” McCollum told ESPNcricinfo. “The priority is to make sure their players are still available and can play. It’s a difficult situation. Afghanistan is complex.”

In case complex becomes something a little more problematic, the working group contemplated the idea of controlled funding, where the ICC would make payments on behalf of the ACB (using Afghanistan’s share of the ICC’s money). It is a practice currently implemented due to the ACB having banking and foreign exchange issues since the Taliban seized power.

“There is no impropriety at the moment and no reason to believe there would be danger of funds being sequestered,” an official said, with controlled funding not set to be part of the recommendations.

The working group will convene a final time in Dubai to formalise its position before presenting to the ICC.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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