Taliban Official Says They'll Ban Women from Playing Some Sports, Underlining Fears of Repression

The deputy head of the Taliban's cultural commission says women will not be permitted to "play the kind of sports where they get exposed"

Afghanistan women sports
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Women will soon be banned from playing some sports in Afghanistan, a Taliban official said.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban's cultural commission, this week called women competing in sports inappropriate.

Wasiq's comments were published Thursday in an interview with Australian broadcaster SBS.

"I don't think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket," Wasiq told SBS. "In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this."

He added, "It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban's government in Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed."

Wasiq's statements drew notice because of the widespread concern from advocates over how the Taliban will rule. The militants, who were last in power before the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have insisted they will be more moderate. But they have a history of violence and severe repression.

Their claims otherwise have been viewed skeptically, and it's unclear if its members all agree: The group's leaders have even suggested fighters will need time to be taught how not to "mistreat women."

Afghanistan women sports
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Many female athletes fled Afghanistan following the Taliban's takeover, though others remain. One woman opened up to CNN about her decision to leave.

"It's really difficult because the main reason, specific reason, that I leave Afghanistan was because I was not secure as an athlete," the athlete said. "I was doing sports in Afghanistan, but nowadays, that is not safe ... I was forced to leave my country."

In August, former women's cycling team captain Khalida Popal also spoke to CNN about the rapid change in culture in Afghanistan.

"We used to practice, we used to have competitions. We even used to compete with boys ... And we were happy," Popal said. "But nowadays, it is really disappointing. It hurts us actually to see the situation that the girls will not be allowed."

Afghan women protest
Afghan women protest. HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty

As a female athlete, Popal said she was hoping to prove that "girls are capable" and "have the right to do what they want," whether it be playing sports or getting an education.

"They are allowed. They should be allowed to do their studies, to do any sport they want and to have a life that they are supposed to have."

On Monday, the United Arab Emirates accepted 25 members of the Afghan women's cycling team before their move to Canada, according to CNN.

In August, former Afghanistan women's assistant coach Haley Carter told the network that 86 Afghan athletes, officials and family members had been safely evacuated thanks to the work of a special "ragtag group."

Just a short time ago, female athletes were making strides in Afghanistan. In November, for instance, the Afghanistan Cricket Board handed out contracts to 40 female cricketers, 25 of whom were selected to receive central contracts.

Afghanistan women sports
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But Wasiq told SBS that "in cricket and other sports, women will not get an Islamic dress code. It is obvious that they will get exposed and will not follow the dress code, and Islam does not allow that."

The Taliban's new rule could put the future of Afghanistan's men's cricket team in jeopardy as well. The International Cricket Council requires full members to maintain a national women's team. Those that fail to do so are ineligible to compete in test matches like the one Afghanistan has scheduled for later this year in Australia.

Wasiq said the Taliban will not compromise its beliefs.

"Even for this, if we face challenges and problems, we have fought for our religion so that Islam is to be followed," he told SBS. "We will not cross Islamic values even if it carries opposite reactions. We will not leave our Islamic rules."

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