On a pristine volleyball court on the seventh floor of a massive training centre in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, a team of Afghanistan women prepare for their first Asian Games in defiance of the Taliban government’s antipathy toward female sport.
Though separated from families and scattered across Asia, the volleyballers have assembled at the multi-sport event with the support of Olympic officials and the sport’s global federation.
Some fled Afghanistan when the Taliban came to power in the wake of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, fearing persecution from a government that has effectively banned women’s sport. With little prospect of returning home, they have rebuilt their lives in Pakistan, Iran and other countries, playing sport in effective exile. Now in Hangzhou, they yearn to give hope to the hopeless – the women athletes left behind in their homeland.
“Nowadays, they are looking for hope,” Mursal Khedri, a Pakistan-based, 24-year-old member of the volleyball team, told Reuters. “By seeing us here they can find hope that we (women) can also participate in sports.”
The Taliban administration say they respect women’s rights in line with their interpretation of Islamic law and Afghan custom and that they have declared a “general amnesty” against their former foes under the previous foreign backed government.
Wearing lycra leggings and shirts with the traditional Afghanistan colours of red, black and green, the team all train in hijabs under the watch of veteran Iranian coach Nasrin Khazani.
They play their first group match against Kazakhstan when the women’s volleyball tournament starts on Saturday.
They are unlikely to get near the knockout rounds and claiming a single win would be a big achievement for a team of exiles up against rival nations with organised programmes and government funding.
However, just their mere recognition by the Games is a boost for women in the country, says Khushal Malakzai, the secretary general of the Afghanistan volleyball federation.
“Actually the important thing for us and also the girls is that participation in such kind of matches and coming here, they give them hope for the future,” he told Reuters.
“And for those girls who are inside Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan, that they should understand that there are people that are still supporting them.” The team’s organiser and fund-raising champion, Malakzai has been based in Melbourne, Australia, for just over a year, having first fled to Pakistan after fearing for his safety in Afghanistan.
He said he left the country on the advice of Afghanistan’s volleyball federation and after receiving multiple threats from Taliban representatives by phone and in writing due to his support for women’s sport. A spokesman for the Taliban administration did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Though initially composed and enthusiastic when talking about the women’s team, Malakzai burst into tears when he saw the players form a circle on the volleyball court, join hands and cry “Afghanistan!” at the end of their training session.
“I am so happy they can be here. But for the girls at home in Afghanistan, it is hopeless,” he said. For the Afghanistan women in Hangzhou, it is a thrill to compete at a high level but there are also nerves. There are 17 in total, competing in volleyball, cycling and athletics.
Australia-based Kimia Yousofi, who will compete in the women’s 100 metres and carried the Afghanistan flag at the Hangzhou opening ceremony last Saturday with a male team mate, declined to be interviewed.
Her Australia-based coach John Quinn said she did not want attention in case of reprisals against her connections in Afghanistan. The Afghan women and men marched as one team at the opening ceremony, behind the traditional tri-colour national flag and not the white one used by the Taliban government. The delegation includes male athletes and sport officials based in Afghanistan. They are unlikely to attend competition venues to cheer on the women’s volleyball team or other Afghan women athletes due to the sensitivity of the situation. Malakzai saw little prospect of things changing in the short-term. “So we hope that everything will change and the Taliban even accepts the women,” he said. “But it will take time.”
PCB reveals schedule of National T20 Super 8
The schedule for the National T20 Super 8 has been revealed by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) following the advancement of the top two teams from each group to the Super Eight stage. This stage is set to take place in a round-robin format spanning from December 1 to December 8.
🚨 Schedule of the @AHGroup_Pk Presents Jazz Super 4G National T20 Cup 2023-24 Super 8 🗓️
— Pakistan Cricket (@TheRealPCB) November 30, 2023
Following the Super Eight stage, the top four teams will qualify for the semi-finals. Both semi-finals are scheduled to be played on 9 December at National Bank Stadium, at 1500 PKT and 2000 PKT respectively.
The final is scheduled to be played at the same venue on 10 December. The toss will take place at 1930 PKT and the first ball will be bowled at 2000 PKT.
The winning team of the tournament will pocket a prize money of PKR 5 million.
Meanwhile, the tournament runners-up will be awarded PKR 2.5 million. The player of the tournament will be rewarded with PKR 250,000. The same amount has been allotted to three other awards; best batter, best bowler and best wicket-keeper of the tournament. The player of the final will receive PKR 50,000 while player of the match in each of the
Super Eight games and the semi-finals will be given PKR 25,000.
This is the first edition of the tournament played since the PCB 2014 Constitution was reinstated. The previous edition of National T20, which featured six sides, was won by Sindh who clinched their maiden title after defeating defending champions Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by eight wickets. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lost out on securing a hat-trick of titles after winning both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 editions.
British Gymnastics bans weighing young athletes
British Gymnastics has introduced new safeguarding rules that will prevent coaches from weighing athletes to stamp out methods it said are “on the fringe of abuse”.
The rules are part of a series of policies that the governing body is introducing following the 2022 Whyte Review, which found there was “systemic” physical and emotional abuse within the sport.
British Gymnastics has said it intends to go beyond the recommendations of that report to stamp out “harmful practices”.
Under the new rules, no gymnasts aged 10 or under can be weighed. Those above that age can only be weighed with the consent of both the gymnast and if they are under the age of 18, a parent or guardian.
If athletes are weighed, it must be done by a sports science or medical practitioner, with a “scientifically valid rationale” for it, including measuring growth or designing strength and conditioning exercises.
British Gymnastics said the policy had been introduced “to prevent inappropriate practices and prevent potential areas of concern around weighing, due to some of the related psychological distress and risks of the development of mental health problems such as eating disorders/disordered eating, anxiety, and depression”.
“Inappropriate or excessive weighing of gymnasts is an example of poor practice which may be on the fringe of abuse, and if/or repeated could amount to abuse,” it added.
The Whyte Review focused on 2008 to 2020 and received more than 400 submissions of those, more than 40 percent described physically abusive behavior towards gymnasts from coaches.
In a statement, British Gymnastics chief executive Sarah Powell said: “Above all else, we care about gymnasts as people, and these new policies make clear that what matters most in gymnastics is the welfare of those involved.
“While practices have moved on a long way, we know there has been poor practice in these areas and so by providing clarity for gymnasts, parents and carers, coaches, clubs, volunteers, and officials through the statements set out in these policies it will ensure everyone understands what is OK and what is not OK and help prevent that happening in the future.”
Iftikhar Ahmed joins Multan Sultans, Rossouw returns to Quetta Gladiators
Pakistan all-rounder Iftikhar Ahmed will don the Multan Sultans’ jersey in the ninth edition of Pakistan Super League (PSL).
In a trade, Iftikhar has moved to Multan Sultans, whereas Rilee Rossouw has returned to his previous franchise, Quetta Gladiators.
🔥🚨 Box-office Trade Alert 🚨🔥
🔁Iftikhar Ahmed joins Multan Sultans
— PakistanSuperLeague (@thePSLt20) November 30, 2023
The trade deal with Quetta Gladiators also sees Multan Sultans get the first pick in the platinum round one in exchange for Rilee Rossouw and the first Silver category pick.
Iftikhar has evolved into a formidable all-rounder for his power-hitting and foxy off-spin. He brings an experience of 229 T20 matches in which he has scored 4,476 runs. He also has a century in the format to go with 30 half-centuries. Since the start of his career in October 2010, the muscular batter has been smashing a boundary every 6.75 balls. He recently reached the 50-wicket landmark and his economy stands at 7.31.
Iftikhar Ahmed: “I am delighted to become a Sultan. It is an honour for me to represent the people of Multan as their passion for this game is second to none. Multan Sultans have evolved into a strong team and their record in the last three seasons speak for itself. Now, it is my ambition to help them bag the prestigious HBL PSL trophy,” Iftikhar said.
Captain Muhammad Rizwan: “I am very excited to welcome Iftikhar Ahmed. He brings outstanding all-round skills, which we need to be a champion team.
“It was not only his on-field skills that made us finalise this trade, but he is also a brilliant team player who uplifts dressing rooms with his presence. We are eager to put together a set of players whose skills are in sync with our positive, bold and aggressive brand of cricket.”
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