The first-ever Test match between the men's teams of Australia and Afghanistan looks set to be called off after Afghanistan's newly-installed Taliban government announced its opposition to women from the Islamic nation playing cricket.
In a statement released on Thursday, Cricket Australia confirmed it would be unable to proceed with the planned Test at Hobart from November 27 if news reports of Taliban views on the women's game were true.
"Driving the growth of women's cricket globally is incredibly important to Cricket Australia," the statement said. "Our vision for cricket is that it is a sport for all and we support the game unequivocally for women at every level.
"If recent media reports that women's cricket will not be supported in Afghanistan are substantiated, Cricket Australia would have no alternative but to not host Afghanistan for the proposed Test Match due to be played in Hobart.
A spokesman for the Taliban government's cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, had told Australian broadcaster SBS News that cricket was not permitted for women under Islamic law.
"Islam and the Islamic Emirate do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed," Wasiq said.
"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. It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it."
He said their stance on the women's game would not soften even if it would mean cancellation of the Hobart Test: "Even for this, if we face challenges and problems, we have fought for our religion so that Islam is to be followed. We will not cross Islamic values even if it carries opposite reactions. We will not leave our Islamic rules."
In the wake of those comments, Australia's Federal Sports Minister Senator Richard Colbeck urged the International Cricket Council to take a stand against the Taliban's position and take a decision on Afghanistan's full membership.
Speaking with ABC Radio on Thursday, Senator Colbeck said no decision had been made on whether visas would be granted to members of the Afghanistan men's team if the scheduled Test in Hobart went ahead.
"The Taliban's attitudes towards women and their individual rights should not be accepted by the international sporting community," he said.
"Excluding women from the sport at any level is unacceptable. We urge international sport authorities, including the International Cricket Council, to take a stand against this appalling ruling. At the end of the day, International Cricket is controlled by the ICC and it's not just about this Test match.
"The ICC is going to have to make a decision about Afghanistan's membership."
In a statement released on Wednesday night, the International Cricket Council (ICC) expressed concern with the latest comments from the newly installed Taliban regime and foreshadowed further discussions at the next ICC board meeting which is scheduled for November, after completion of the T20 World Cup.
That would ensure the Afghanistan men's team's involvement in the T20 tournament in the UAE and Oman, but to hold full-member status ICC status nations must field both men's and women's teams.
"The ICC is committed to the long-term growth of women's cricket and despite the cultural and religious challenges in Afghanistan, steady progress has been made in this area since Afghanistan's admission as a Full Member in 2017," the ICC statement said.
"The ICC has been monitoring the changing situation in Afghanistan and is concerned to note recent media reports that women will no longer be allowed to play cricket."
Suspension of a member nation's Test status requires a two-thirds majority vote of the ICC's 17-member board.
The Afghanistan women's team is yet to compete in an ICC-sanctioned match despite an initial squad being formed in 2010 before being disbanded several years later due to safety concerns.
When Afghanistan was granted men's Test status in 2017 the ICC granted them dispensation in regards to fielding a women's team provided they committed to growing the game for women and girls.
In November 2020, twenty-five female cricketers were awarded central contracts by the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB). It also held a 21-day training camp for 40 female cricketers in Kabul.
The women's team had been preparing for their first formal match, against Oman, in the coming months but Afghanistan Cricket Board Chief Executive Hamid Shinwari recently acknowledged the outlook for women's cricket in his country was grim.
"I think it will be stopped, that is my assumption," Shinwari told the BBC recently. "I really don't know what will be the position in the future. We have kept the salaries and they (women's players) are on our payroll. If the government decides that we don't go with the national women's team, we will have to stop."