Football, swimming, athletics, horse riding … In Kabul, the new Taliban sports chief assures us: Afghans will be able to play up to “400 sports”. But he cannot yet say whether women will be able to practice one in public.
“Please don’t ask me any more questions about women …” Sitting in the large armchair of the former president of the Afghan Olympic Committee, who fled like the rest of the former government, the good-natured Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai starts to get annoyed.
Massive build, round and attractive face, black turban and long and thick salt and pepper beard, the freshly appointed director of sports and physical education is a former wrestling and kung fu champion. President of the kung fu federation under the first Taliban regime, he then worked with the pro-Western government, with whom he ended up falling out because, he says, of its “widespread corruption”.
He owes a lot to the Taliban, starting with his freedom: imprisoned by the government because he was close to the rebels, they released him on August 15, after seven years of detention, at the same time as they took Kabul and power.
To AFP, he immediately assures that the Taliban have evolved from the 90s, when they mainly used stadiums to execute their opponents. And promise that they will develop sport “everywhere in the country”, and no longer strictly control it among men and prohibit it among women, as the Westerners fear in particular.
“This is all propaganda! We will not ban any sport, ”he proclaims. The Afghans, he continues, have nothing to worry about and will be able to continue to practice their favorite sports, football, cricket and martial arts in mind. And many others, because “more than 400 sports are allowed by the laws of Islam”.
The Taliban have only one demand: that every sport be “practiced in accordance with Islamic law”. This poses few problems for men, he explains: to comply with Sharia law, they just have to cover their knees. So all they have to do is put on “slightly longer shorts”. It works “for all sports,” including football, he says.
But what will happen to women? In this sensitive area, where the Taliban are expected at the turn by the West, Mullah Rustamzai is walking on eggshells. He still wants to reassure: there too, “there have been changes” among the Taliban.
But some statements seriously sow doubt. A week ago, a Taliban official, Ahmadullah Wasiq, told Australian outlet SBS that the regime should not allow women to play cricket if they were to be exposed to the public eye.
“They might be faced with a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like that, ”he said.
A compromise could be to follow the example of universities, where the Taliban now allows women to study under certain conditions, such as wearing the veil and being separated from men. “We can imagine the same thing: authorizing women to play sports, but separately from men,” slips an adviser to Mullah Rustamzai.
To listen to the Taliban, it is not a question of prohibiting the sport to women, but of preventing them from practicing it too scantily clad, with men and in public. What deprive them of many sports in society, when it is enough for men to cover their knees.
The problem arises among others for international matches, in public and in the media.
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 marches.
Australia threatened to cancel the first historic men’s game between the two countries, scheduled for Hobart in November.
Afghan Federation President Azizullah Fazli then hinted that the Taliban may eventually allow women to play cricket under certain conditions.
It will take more to reassure Afghan sportswomen. Afghanistan’s junior women’s football team, coaches and relatives took refuge in Pakistan on Wednesday. At the end of August, players from the national football team and their families were evacuated to Australia.