From soccer and swimming to athletics and horse riding. In Kabul, the new Taliban sports director maintains that Afghans will be able to play up to “400 sports”. But he can’t say yet whether women will be able to practice one in public.
“Please, don’t ask me any more questions about women“insists Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, while sitting in the big chair of the former president of the Afghanistan Olympic Committee, who fled like the rest of the previous government.
He has a heavy build and an affable face, he wears a black turban and sports a long, bushy beard. The newly appointed Afghan Director of Sports and Physical Education He is a former wrestling and kung fu champion.
During the first Taliban regime he served as president of the Kung Fu Federation and later worked with the pro-Western government, with which he ended up fighting for his “widespread corruption”, need Rustamzai.
He owes a lot to the Taliban, starting with his freedom: imprisoned by the Executive for being close to the rebels. They released him on August 15, after seven years in detention, at the same time they took Kabul and power.
Rustamzai immediately tells AFP that the Taliban have evolved since the 90s, when they mainly used the stadiums to execute their opponents. In addition, he promises that they will develop the sport “across the country”, and that it will no longer be strictly controlled by men and that women will no longer be banned, as Westerners especially fear.
“This is all propaganda! We will not ban any sports”he cried. Afghans, he continues, have nothing to worry about as they will be able to continue practicing their favorite sports: soccer, cricket and martial arts. And many others, since “more than 400 sports are allowed by the laws of Islam”.
The Taliban have only one demand: that all sports “are practiced in accordance with Islamic law”. This poses few problems for men, he explains: to comply with sharia, they only have to cover their knees. So they just have to wear “slightly longer shorts.” That’s “for all sports,” including soccer, he says.
Nevertheless, What will happen to the women? In this sensitive area, where the West expects a turn from the Taliban, Mullah Rustamzai walks on shaky ground, although he tries to reassure by assuring that there are changes among the Taliban.
But some statements raise serious doubts. A week ago, a Taliban official, Ahmadullah Wasiq, told the Australian media SBS that the regime should not allow women to play cricket if they are going to be exposed to the public.
“They may face a situation where their face and body are not covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this“, he stressed.
One compromise could be to follow the example of universities, where the Taliban now authorize women to study under certain conditions, such as wearing the veil and being separated from men. “We can imagine the same thing: allowing women to play sports, but separately from men“, slips an adviser from Rustamzai.
It’s not about banning sport for women, but to prevent them from practicing it with clothing that is too light, with men and in public. What deprives them of many sports in society, when men just cover their knees.
The problem arises among others before international parties, in public and mediated.
The Taliban are already under pressure in cricket, where each country must have a men’s team and a women’s team to be able to compete in international competitions.
Following Ahmadullah Wasiq’s remarks, Australia threatened to cancel the first historic men’s match between the two countries, scheduled to take place in Hobart in November.
On the SBS radio station, the President of the Afghan Federation, Azizullah Fazli, hinted that the Taliban could allow women to play cricket under conditions. “Very soon we will give you good news”Fazli added.
Tired of the issue, Rustamzai referred the question to the Taliban government: “If they ask us to authorize women, we will do it, otherwise we will not do it,” he concludes.