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Can global pressure save women’s sports in Afghanistan?

The doomed future of women’s sports in Afghanistan may not be as black and white as the Taliban’s deputy head of the cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq, initially indicated in comments made earlier this month. Wasiq’s interview with Australian broadcaster SBS was in regard to an upcoming men’s cricket Test match scheduled for late November between Australia and Afghanistan. It would be the first ever Test between the two nations and many wondered if it would continue as planned given Afghanistan’s recent upheaval. As the Taliban take-over culminated, party officials assured Cricket Australia and the Afghanistan Cricket Board that the historic match would not be derailed. Wasiq told SBS that the Taliban wanted “to reassure all our players, the cricket board officials, and colleagues that they can continue their games without any fear or intimidation, and call on their colleagues to come and play with confidence, and to also get prepared for domestic and upcoming international games.”

In the follow up interview that made global headlines, it became clear that when Wasiq said “all our players,” he was strictly referring to male players. 

“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket. 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.”

No one familiar with the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam was surprised by these comments. Female athletes have been among the many groups striving to flee the country, with several stating they now fear for their lives. Those who couldn’t get out have been advised by teammates outside the country to erase all evidence of their sporting lives, even to “burn their jerseys.”

Immediately after Wasiq indicated the women’s cricket team would now be banned, people began wondering how national and international cricket organizations would respond. Would Cricket Australia boycott the scheduled test? Would teams pull out of the men’s T20 World Cup scheduled for October if the Afghan team is permitted to enter as planned?

In 2017, the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) became a full-fledged member of the International Cricket Council (ICC). One requirement of ICC membership is to create and maintain an active national women’s cricket team. But as of 2018, female cricketers in Afghanistan reported ACB officials had done almost nothing to support a women’s team and didn’t believe women should play. Even if they personally supported the idea of a women’s team, officials claimed they received threats from Taliban members warning against its development. Without providing clarity on what changed, the ACB’s 2020 annual report claims they made good on the ICC requirement and signed the top 25 Afghan female cricketers to professional contracts after holding a series of development camps throughout the country.

If the Taliban bans the nascent women’s cricket team, ACB may lose its ICC membership, which would be a huge blow for the men’s team on the international level. 

An ICC spokesperson told SBS News that the body will discuss the matter at its next board meeting. 

“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. This and the impact it will have on the continued development of the game will be discussed by the ICC Board at its next meeting.”

Whereas the ICC may opt to extend exceptions of its gender equality requirements to Afghanistan, as they previously did when granting ACB full membership status before its women’s team was fully active, Cricket Australia has indicated it will not be similarly generous

“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.” 

Women’s cricket has a strong support system and following in Australia. In early 2020, Australia’s women’s team came close to breaking the attendance record for a women’s sporting event at their ICC Women’s T20 World Cup final vs. India, with 86,174 fans watching in person. 

With Australia drawing a hard line in the sand, the leaders of the ACB are now in a highly motivated position to convince the Taliban to permit their women’s program to continue at a level that satisfies global ideals. Interestingly, ACB’s Chairman, Azizullah Fazli, was quick to downplay Wasiq’s harsh statements and to temper concerns over the safety of their female players.

 “The women’s cricket coach, Diana Barakzai, and her players are all safe and living in their home country. Many countries have asked them to leave Afghanistan. But they have not left Afghanistan, and at the moment, they are in their places.” 

He also didn’t waiver in his assuredness that the women’s team would be allowed to persist stating, “We will give you our clear position on how we will allow women to play cricket. Very soon, we will give you good news on how we will proceed.”

It’s hard to adopt Fazli’s optimism, especially considering one of ACB’s two female board members, Hasina Safi, has gone into hiding now that the Taliban dissolved her position as Minister of Women’s Affairs and transformed her office building into a ministry for “the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice.” Fazli’s assurance that ACB’s female cricketers are safe and content to stay in Afghanistan also starkly contradicts reports from the BBC that members of the team have been threatened by the Taliban and are fearing for their lives. 

There is the possibility that the Taliban is fully willing to sacrifice Afghanistan’s standing in men’s international sports in order to adhere to their strict religious beliefs about women’s propriety. But Wasiq also recently backpedaled after the strong reactions to his initial statements, clarifying a few days later that his comments were not an official announcement of Taliban policy. 

“The policies [on women’s sports] might be announced in the future,” Wasiq said. “What I had said in the past was my opinion based on the country’s cultural and security situation.”

The social and political power of sport is on full display as any hope of a future for women’s sports in Taliban-led Afghanistan now hinges on pressure from global sporting authorities and tact from existing Afghan sports federations. The fact that the development and support of women’s teams is a requirement of membership in organizations like the ICC is heartening. The tragedy is that women hold almost zero leadership positions in the parties at the table here. And the stakes could not be higher for women in Afghanistan.

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

Sun’s Alyssa Thomas Ejected After Flagrant 2 on Sky Rookie Angel Reese

Angel Reese said there were "no hard feelings" stemming from Alyssa Thomas's flagrant foul. (Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Angel Reese might have gotten knocked down on Saturday, but she got right back up again. 

Connecticut’s Alyssa Thomas was ejected from the Sun’s 86-82 win over Chicago following a flagrant foul 2 on Reese — the first of her career. While the two were battling for a rebound, Reese took a clothesline hold around the neck courtesy of Thomas before hitting the ground.

After the game, Reese told reporters that there were "no hard feelings" and she appreciated Thomas for playing her hard beneath the basket.

"I know she purposely probably didn’t do it towards me," Reese said. "But just being able to come out there and just be strong and stand on two feet, it was going to be a tough game and that’s what I’m built for. And my teammates had my back throughout the whole game. So I was prepared for it."

She also didn’t buy into the idea that it was a "Welcome to the WNBA" moment, but thanked Thomas "sending a message" because it helped her get back up and "keep pushing."

"It’s not just because I’m a rookie. I’m a player. I’m a basketball player. They don’t give a damn if I’m a rookie. I mean, I want them to come at me every day. I want them to come at everybody," she added. "I mean, they’re not supposed to be nice to me. I hope y’all know that. They’re not supposed to be nice to me or lay down because I’m Angel Reese or because I’m a rookie."

Reese finished the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists over 33 minutes.

Barcelona to Face Lyon in Champions League Rematch This Weekend

UEFA Women's Champions League Final"Barcelona FC - Olympique Lyonnais"
Saturday's game will be the third UWCL final meeting for Barcelona and Lyon, having previously gone up against each other in 2019 and 2022. (ANP via Getty Images)

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off in Bilbao on Saturday, with a couple of familiar foes set to face off for the trophy.

Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, making its 11th final appearance since 2010, will go head to head with a Barcelona side making its fourth final appearance in a row.

This will be the third time these two teams meet in the UWCL title game, having previously appeared in the 2019 and 2022 finals. Lyon won both of those prior games against Barcelona, alongside a total of eight Champions League trophies. That’s double that of any other club, with Eintracht Frankfurt coming in a distant second with four. 

Should Barcelona win, this would be the team's third title — breaking a tie for the third in the UWCL total titles race. 

But as these teams return to the UWCL final, it also marks the end of an era for both clubs. The game will be the last for both club managers, as Barcelona’s Jonatan Giráldez and Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor depart for new jobs after the season's end.

Giráldez is set to leave for the NWSL's Washington Spirit, while Bompastor will take over for incoming USWNT coach Emma Hayes at Chelsea. Both coaches have earned one UWCL trophy during their tenures, while Bompastor also brought two Champions League trophies to Lyon as a player. She was the first coach to win a UWCL trophy as both a coach and player.

This season, Barcelona is looking for its first quadruple, having won a fifth Liga F title alongside the Copa de La Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

"We hope he can go out with the four trophies because we know how competitive and ambitious he is," Barcelona midfielder Patri Guijarro told ESPN. "It has been a winning era with him in charge and for him to go out with all four trophies would be historic and incredible."

But Lyon's Damaris Egurrola is excited about her team's chances of overcoming Barcelona once again — and to do it in front of family and friends.

"Lyon have something special," she told Forbes ahead of the weekend's final. "We have a great team and we have the players with enough talent to win any match."

The game will be a homecoming for Egurrola, who began her professional career with Athletic Bilbao.

"I’ve been thinking of this day and night," she said. "I’ve been dreaming of playing this match. Having the opportunity to play in San Mames is amazing. This is where it all started for me."

The UEFA Women's Champions League final kicks off Saturday, May 25th at 12 PM ET and is free to stream on DAZN.

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