Taliban Aims to Elevate Afghanistan as a Cricket Global Power

During the first era of Taliban rule in the 1990s, their disdain for many sports led to Kabul’s main stadium drawing significant crowds on days designated for public executions. However, since returning to power in 2021, Taliban has shifted its focus to transforming Afghanistan into a global cricket force. They have ambitious plans for a modern cricket stadium capable of hosting international matches. Despite initial concerns, the men’s national cricket team has not only sustained its momentum but has also achieved surprising victories in international competitions. Private cricket academies, funded independently, are experiencing a notable increase in new players.

The Taliban’s interest in cricket may stem from its enduring popularity in ethnic Pashtun communities. This is where the group traditionally garners significant support. However, as cricket transcends ethnic boundaries, the regime likely perceives the sport as a unifying force. Abdul Ghafar Farooq, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue, acknowledged that cricket has the potential to bring the country together.

Shortly after seizing power in August 2021, Anas Haqqani, the influential brother of the Taliban’s interior minister, visited the Afghan cricket board to express the new government’s backing for the sport. Anas, a cricket enthusiast, contended that Taliban soldiers could have excelled as cricket stars. He mentioned that if not for the war, many Taliban members might have been part of the national cricket team. He expressed optimism about the bright future of cricket in Afghanistan.

Taliban soldiers closely monitored the Cricket World Cup in India last fall. They gathered in parks, wedding venues, and television shops to watch on large screens. Their team has conceived surprising victories against prominent cricketing nations like England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Netherlands. Some Taliban soldiers even celebrated with gunfire in the sky. Mohammad Gul Ahmadzai, a Kabul resident, highlighted that cricket provides happiness in a country. Here, people have limited sources of enjoyment, especially since the decline in the frequency of soccer broadcasts.

In the realm of global soccer, where teams often operate with substantial financial backing, Ahmadzai noted that the relatively smaller number of serious international cricket competitors gives Afghans a more realistic chance of achieving success. However, some argue that the cricket fervor in Afghanistan is driven by desperation. Farhard Amirzai emphasized that he and his friends view a professional cricket career as a potential escape from poverty.

After the Taliban assumed power, Amirzai observed a decline in interest in education among boys, with many believing that graduating from school or university might not lead to good job prospects under the current government. Consequently, they turn to cricket as a pathway to success. Despite a surge in interest, most young Afghans, including Amirzai, cannot afford to join cricket academies.

Abdul Mobin Mansor, a 19-year-old Taliban soldier, expressed his desire to pursue a cricket career. However, he lamented that his duties leave him with little time for such pursuits. He reminisced about following the sport on battery-powered radios while still engaged in armed rebellion. He dreamt of becoming a national team player.

For Afghan women, however, the prospect of participating in cricket has been entirely extinguished by the Taliban-run government. One of their initial actions post-takeover was to reimpose a ban on women playing sports, reviving a policy established during their previous rule and shattering the dreams of aspiring female athletes.