Afghanistan's participation in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics is in the hands of the International Olympics Council (IOC), not the ICC. This is the view expressed by ICC's chief executive officer Geoff Allardice, who was responding to how cricket's governing body will tackle the challenge of Afghanistan women players being forced into exile since Taliban assumed power in 2021.
In October the IOC approved the LA28's recommendation of adding T20 cricket as a new sport, convinced by its popularity across the Commonwealth countries as well as the younger generation, along with the potential it brings for growth in markets such as the USA.
In its proposal, the ICC had recommended a six-team event for both the men's and women's competitions which was approved by the IOC. By 2025, the LA28 and ICC will work out a competition structure as well as the way in which teams can qualify for the event.
The LA28 organisers have stressed on gender equality at the Olympics, which normally sees participation from both genders in individual and team sports. However, Afghanistan currently do not have a women's cricket team, with 22 out of the 25 contracted players moving overseas since the Taliban's takeover in August 2021. There remains a chance, however, that the men's team might take part in the event in five years' time.
"(In) the Olympic competition teams are fielded by the National Olympic Committees of those countries," Allardice told the BBC's Stumped podcast. "As an international sporting federation, we position our sport with the LA28 organisers for inclusion. And the IOC and they (LA28) have included cricket. In terms of the position of the National Olympic Committee of Afghanistan, it's probably something for the IOC to be able to address more accurately than me. But I know that they (IOC) have been following the progress or the developments there. Our position on cricket and supporting our member in Afghanistan is not dissimilar to those of other international sporting organisations."
In its communication with the Taliban government, the IOC has been emphasising that the country's National Olympic Committee (NOC) will be in danger of suspension if access to sports for women continues to be restricted. The IOC has not cleared Afghanistan's participation for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Addressing the IOC session in Mumbai in October, James Macleod, IOC head of Olympic Solidarity and National Olympic Committee Relations, said that there was a "tiny bit of progress" made which was evident in the Hangzhou Asian Games recently. Out of the 83 Afghan athletes, 17 were women. While it was the men who owned all five medals, the women athletes - all of whom reside overseas - competed in volleyball, athletics and cycling. They also had male and female flag bearers at the event.
IOC president Thomas Bach had pointed out at the Mumbai session that the onus was on Afghanistan's National Olympic Committee to show the progress it was making to ensure women cricketers were receiving encouragement and support to compete at all levels. "In this broader context, cricket will be considered in the end," he said
Afghanistan men were part of the gold medal match in the Asian Games in the absence of the women's team. Allardice, who traveled to Hangzhou, said that the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) had committed to developing women's cricket when it was granted ICC's Full Membership in 2017.
"They were in the process of doing that through to 2021," Allardice said. "And in 2021 the regime in the country changed and has brought in rules, laws that prohibit women from playing sport in the country. Whilst we have spoken with the Afghanistan Cricket Board and their position is that they have to operate within the laws of the country and the rules set by the government."
An ICC working group, led by its deputy chair Imran Khwaja, has been liaising with the Taliban government in the last year with the ultimate aim of helping women play cricket safely. "The question for the ICC board is do we support our member in their ability to promote cricket within the rules set by the government of the country? And view is yes," Allardice said.
As a Full Member, the ACB receives significant funding. As per the ICC's financial distribution model for the next cycle (2024-27), the ACB will receive approximately USD 16.8 million as its share from the commercial earnings. Allardice said that the member boards had the autonomy to utilise the funds as they saw fit.
"How those members distribute those funds and the use of that money is very much up to those members. With any of our members, we have a check and balance over how that money is distributed and whether it goes to certain contracts or other contracts. We don't stipulate how that needs to be managed."