Delhi: Cricket played a massive role in changing the image of a war-torn country like Afghanistan in front of the world. From giving joy to its people to paving a path for the younger generation – Cricket as a sport is a religion in Afghanistan. Former director of Afghanistan women’s team – Tuba Sangar urges international boards and cricketers to extend their support in favour of the Afghanistan men’s team, not punish them by boycotting matches if the Taliban bars women from playing the sport.

Sangar, who fled the country for Canada shortly after the Islamist group Taliban took over the reins in Afghanistan, warned that sports sanctions would damage the game at the grassroots level for both women and girls. It’s not a good idea to boycott the male team. They did a lot for Afghanistan — they introduced Afghanistan to the world in a positive way,” Sangar was quoted by AFP on Tuesday.

“If we don’t have a male team anymore, there would be no hope for cricket overall,” said the 28-year-old, who was the director of women’s cricket at the Afghanistan Cricket Board from 2014-2020.

Recently, Cricket Australia threatened to cancel a historic maiden Test between the two countries — set to take place in November — after a senior Taliban official went on television to say it was “not necessary” for women to play.

The Afghan men’s team is also scheduled to participate in the T20 World Cup from October 17 to November 14 in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Back in 2001 during their first stint in power, the Taliban banned most forms of entertainment — including many sports — and stadiums were used as public execution venues. Women were completely banned from playing sport.

However, the popularity of cricket grown manifolds over the past few decades, largely as a result of cricket-mad Pakistan across the border. The Afghanistan men’s team ranks in the top-10 in the world in both one-day international and T20 format.

This time round, the hardline Islamists have shown they do not mind men playing cricket, pulling together a match in the capital Kabul shortly after foreign forces withdrew.

But on Tuesday, Bashir Ahmad Rustamzai, Afghanistan’s new director general for sports, declined to answer as to whether women will be allowed to play sports — deferring it for top level Taliban leaders to decide.

The takeover has called into question the future of Afghanistan’s participation in Test matches, as under ICCl regulations, nations must also have an active women’s team.

The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) last week urged Australia not to punish its men’s team, saying it was “powerless to change the culture and religious environment of Afghanistan”.

Sangar also feels the Taliban takeover had “killed the hope” of female cricketers to finally be able to play internationally. “From 2014 to now, we didn’t have the opportunity to play at an international level but there was the hope, everybody was trying their best to make it happen,” she said.

“There are some girls that are very talented, and they hoped that one day they would have their flag on their shoulders and show the world that Afghan women can play cricket.”

Sangar said cricketing nations could support Afghanistan’s female players by backing a team in exile. “We can play from third countries,” she said, noting that Afghanistan’s football team had played while based abroad.

“It will bring some hope to those who remain in Afghanistan,” she said.

(With Agency Inputs)