The Taliban will ban Afghan women from playing sport because ‘their face and body will not be covered,’ the terror group confirmed today.
The jihadists have ordered all women to stay at home as a ‘temporary procedure’, cracked down on female-led protests and appointed an all-male cabinet on Tuesday.
Now the country’s newly picked deputy culture minister, Ahmadullah Wasiq, has confirmed the Taliban’s Sharia law interpretation regarding women’s sport.
‘I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,’ Wasiq told Australian broadcaster 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.
‘It is the media era, and there will be photos and videos, and then people watch it. Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed.’
The Taliban have stated that women will be able to return to work, however those hopes are rapidly diminishing with the brutal treatment of those who have taken to the streets in protest for their basic human rights.
Footage emerged today which shows a group of women locked in the basement of a bank to prevent them from taking part in protests.
Another image showed a woman staring down the barrel of an M-16 assault rifle pointed at her head by a Taliban fighter on the streets of Kabul.
Their lives have been turned upside down by the sudden withdrawal of US troops that left the American-backed government in Kabul to collapse.
The freedoms they had enjoyed under that regime were swept away in an instant, with many prominent women fleeing abroad if possible, while others have been too scared to leave their homes.
Football is highly popular in Afghanistan with national stars enjoying a large profile thanks to both men and women’s games being broadcast on TV, making the players highly visible targets for the new regime.
During Taliban rule in 1996 to 2001, many sports and recreational activities including football were banned for all citizens, while women were forbidden from even leaving the house without being accompanied by a male relative and were often subjected to horrific sexual attacks.
Now the international stars, many of whom are in hiding, say they fear being captured and beaten by the militants.
Goalkeeping coach Wida Zemarai told Swedish news outlet Expressen: ‘It’s awful to think about. They themselves have said they are there to do jihad and that they choose girls as sex slaves.
‘Should the Taliban get hold of any of the girls, they will not have them lying at home like dolls. They want to use them as sex slaves and torture them. Maybe until they die.’
Zemarai and her family previously fled Afghanistan in 1992 when the Taliban were seizing the country by force.
She returned to the country to play as a goalkeeper from 2014 and now works as a coach, and has been in contact with the players at risk under the new regime.
She said: ‘Let’s say that the Taliban recognise a player… They just pick out the player, torture her and get information about where the rest of the players are.’
The sports star added that the women have been subjected to sexual harassment before but the risk to the Taliban is ten times worse than anything they would have experienced.
Former captain Khalida Popal, who left Afghanistan after receiving death threats in 2011, said she is sleepless from worrying about her teammates still in the country.
The 34-year-old, who helped set up the women’s national team, said she has been advising players to flee their homes, burn photos and their football kits and try to erase their history.
She said: ‘I have been encouraging to take down social media channels, take down photos, escape and hide themselves.
‘Even I’m telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform.’
‘That breaks my heart because of all these years we have worked to raise the visibility of women and now I’m telling my women in Afghanistan to shut up and disappear. Their lives are in danger.’
Having fled with her family after the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, Popal returned to Afghanistan two decades ago as a teenager who had been living in a refugee camp in Pakistan.
With the protection of the international community, Popal was optimistic that women’s rights would be promoted.
‘My generation had the hope of building the country, developing the situation for the next generation of women and men in the country. So I started with other young women using football as a tool to empower women and girls.’
By 2007, there were enough players for Popal to be part of Afghanistan’s first women’s national team.
‘We felt so proud of wearing the jersey,’ Popal said. ‘It was the most beautiful, best feeling ever.’
She encouraged her teammates to speak out as escalating attacks were seeing the Taliban retake territory.
‘I received so many death threats and challenges because I was quoted on the national TV,’ she said. ‘I was calling Taliban our enemy.’
Popal stopped playing in 2011 to work as a director at the Afghanistan Football Association, but the threats continued and she was forced to flee to seek asylum in Denmark in 2016.
‘My life was in great danger,’ she said.
But she never abandoned the female footballers, helping to expose physical and sexual abuse, death threats and rape that implicated the Afghanistan federation leadership.
‘They are hiding away. Most of them left their houses to go to relatives and hide because their neighbors know they are players. They are sitting, they are afraid. The Taliban is all over. They are going around creating fear.’
Meanwhile current captain Shabnam Mobarez, 25, who is residing in the United States, has asked the world football governing body to intervene in the situation in her home country.
Recalling a conversation with one of her peers on Twitter, Mobarez posted her interpretation of the conversation, which started with her saying: ”are you okay?’
‘My teammate in Afghanistan: ‘No I am not – I know they will come for me soon, can you help me?’
‘@FIFAcom how should I answer the question? We must act to save my teammates. They are my sisters?’
Mobarez also revealed that the Afghan Football Federation has given up on the team, hence why she is appealing to FIFA for help.
‘They are hidden in the home of family or friends, without revealing their identity. Even the Afghan Football Federation members and staff simply disappeared, they were supposed to protect them and there is no one there.
‘It looks like the people who had the money left and now we have all these helpless women left to fend for themselves.
‘I would love to be able to help them more, but the situation is so tense that, right now, if they leave the house, they will be killed.
‘For now, the best thing to do is wait for the situation to calm down. There is a chance that the Taliban will knock on their door and tomorrow they will no longer be with us.’
It comes as former president Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country last month with $169 million in cash, apologised to the Afghan people on Wednesday because ‘I could not make it end differently.’
In a statement on Twitter, Ghani said he left at the urging of the palace security in order to avoid the risk of bloody street fighting, and again denied stealing millions from the treasury.
The US State Department last night expressed concerns that no women had been appointed to the new caretaker government, drawn from veteran Taliban members.
The carefully-worded statement noted that this was an interim government and said that Washington expected that Afghanistan would not become a base for terrorism.
‘The world is watching closely,’ the statement said.
While the Taliban are expected to remain supportive of the men’s cricket team, which boasts a star of the global game in leg-spinner Rashid Khan, the prejudicial stance over women’s participation appears unlikely to be relaxed no matter what implications it may have.
‘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,’ Wasiq said.
‘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.’