THE participation of four Zimbabwean cricketers in a tournament in war-ravaged Afghanistan could hinge on government authorisation, an official has said.
National team players Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams, Sikandar Raza and Solomon Mire are scheduled to play in the Afghan T20 League next month after being bought by franchises in a player auction in May.
The country’s sports regulatory body, the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), says it will consider the situation when the players seek the go-ahead from the government-appointed body, as is the norm with all sportspersons travelling outside the country.
“Normally, we approve trips on the blessing of the national association and also the international federation the national association is affiliated to,” SRC acting director-general Joseph Muchechetere said.
“In this case, ordinarily we will require Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) to provide their firm word. But where we feel there is a serious concern for the safety of our sportsmen, we take the matter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which then makes the final decision on the basis of security reasons. If the ministry rules that the safety of our nationals in a foreign country will not be guaranteed, then those people cannot travel there.”
Terrorism is a serious threat in Afghanistan, with the deteriorating security situation worsened by a bomb blast in the capital city Kabul last week, which killed more than 80 people. The death toll has since risen to 150.
The blast has sparked off a diplomatic rift between the national cricket associations of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The row resulted in the latter barring its players from taking part in the Afghan tournament in reaction to proclamations by the hosts’ cricket board that appeared to blame neighbouring Pakistan for the Kabul blast.
A statement by the Afghanistan Cricket Board labelled Pakistan a “country where terrorists are housed and provided safe haven”.
Zimbabwe’s cricket players are familiar with security threats in that part of the world.
In 2015, while Zimbabwe’s national team toured Pakistan, a suicide blast targeted at the stadium the two teams were playing claimed the life of a policeman who was trying to thwart the bombing.
Zimbabwe had become the first Test-playing nation to tour Pakistan in six years, a gimmick by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to entice other top teams to end tour boycotts prompted by a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009.
Pakistani authorities tried to manage the situation by imposing a media blackout on the Zimbabwe incident and insisted it was in fact an accidental explosion, but the blast was confirmed to have been the work of a suicide bomber who was targeting the stadium.
Although the remaining match in the series was played, it is said that the Zimbabwe team was very scared after being told of the blast, and wanted to leave immediately before being persuaded to play.
That Pakistan tour courted trouble for former ZC chairman Wilson Manase, who was banned by the SRC from holding a position in sports administration for four years on charges of unilaterally approving the team’s tour after the government had advised the local cricket governing body to cancel the trip. The Administrative Court, however, quashed the ban in a ruling last September.
The Afghan T20 League, also known as the Shpageeza Cricket League, was first played in 2014.
Only players from West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe will add an international flavour to it this year. Players from the other cricket-playing countries fear for their safety.
Experienced batsman Hamilton Masakadza, meanwhile, is the most expensive player from Zimbabwe after he was bought by the AMO Sharks for US$20 000.
Williams (Speenghar Tigers), Raza (Mis Ainak Knights) and Mire (Kabul Eagles) all went for US$10 000 each.
Cricket is the most popular sport in Afghanistan, which is set to gain Test status soon following a series of impressive performances in recent years, which include frequent series wins over Zimbabwe.