Ekil Latifi, a former Afghanistan cricket player, reveals the fear he and his teammates experienced during their exile from the sport. They were afraid for their lives.
At 4pm, Ekil Latifi, a 19-year-old, has been at Lord’s indoor cricket centre for eight hours. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. After finishing her day job with the MCC schools and community team, she arrived two hours early to practice in the nets. Now, she is heading to the gym for a training session, which she considers a perk. How is she not tired? She simply shrugs and says it is her passion.
As a child in Afghanistan, Latifi was always active and interested in sports. She had dreams of becoming a professional football player, but that changed when she sustained an injury in her early teens. Her mother declared that she could no longer play, leading Latifi to focus on volleyball and basketball instead. However, her height became a hindrance in these sports. In 2015, while watching her fellow Afghans compete against Scotland in the men’s Cricket World Cup, Latifi found a new passion. She discovered a cricket bat in her home and picked it up with a renewed determination.
Latifi shared, “I promised my good friend Feroze Afghan that I would purchase a ball for him, so he could practice bowling with me. I believed that one day he would become the top bowler in the nation while I would be the best batter.” The two motivated their friends to join them in playing cricket and also gained knowledge by watching it on television. They dedicated themselves to playing every day, even skipping classes, and eventually participated in a school tournament where they emerged as champions. Latifi was recognized as the best batter, while Feroze was named the best bowler.
In the following four years, the duo dedicated their time and energy to honing their abilities. They trained at a local football field because there were no cricket facilities available in their hometown of Herat. As part of the Afghanistan Cricket Board’s initiative to establish the first women’s team in the country, they were among the 25 women who were offered professional contracts in 2020. However, their dreams were cut short when the Taliban regained control and forced the women’s team to flee the country. Most of the players, including Afghan, found new homes in Australia. At the age of 17, Latifi came to the UK alone. She continues to pursue her aspiration of becoming a professional cricket player, despite uncertainty about what that may entail. “I am determined to be prepared for any opportunity to represent my country,” she explains. “That’s why I am committed to my training.”
The Australian-based players have consistently raised the issue of reforming Afghanistan’s women’s team in the past year. While the men’s team received praise for their impressive World Cup performance in October, the women’s team felt that their omission was being conveniently overlooked.
While it may seem unusual, the idea of a women’s national team training and competing in a foreign country is not impossible. In fact, many male players already reside abroad due to the nature of their profession. As stated by Latifi, the men’s team is often scattered across the globe for games, so why can’t the women’s team also represent their country while living abroad?
After completing her year 12 exams, Latifi realized that she and her teammates were at risk. She removed all proof of her participation in the game, including her training attire, out of fear for their lives. Her mother seized the first chance to secure her daughter’s safety by sending her on a flight out of the country. Latifi arrived in the UK as a young refugee and has not been able to reunite with her family since.
A foster family welcomed her into their home, but she struggled with trauma and depression in the ensuing months. “Then, my foster mother received an email asking if I would like to participate in a cricket tournament, and I agreed,” she recalls. She joined the UK portion of a five-day FairBreak tour, which not only brought her joy and a sense of purpose, but also introduced her to other female players who offered their support. She currently plays for Bexley women’s team and has even traveled to Ireland with an MCC team.
“I have experienced many things in the past and reflecting on them brings feelings of sadness,” she explains. “When I look towards the future, I am filled with negative thoughts and fear. However, focusing on the present moment and the tasks at hand allows me to keep moving forward. I have ambitious goals, but they require patience and dedication. I have faith in myself that one day I will become a professional cricket player, whether it be for Afghanistan or another team.”
There is a lack of agreement among athletes on the best way to protest against the Afghan government’s disregard for women’s fundamental rights. The International Cricket Council has disregarded its own policy against discrimination by granting full membership to Afghanistan, despite their failure to meet the criteria for a national women’s cricket program. Additionally, while Australia has declined to play scheduled matches against the men’s team, some believe that this boycott should be lifted.
Feroze, currently a member of the Prahran team in the Victoria Premier League, was asked to address Cricket Australia in January. While she has no objection to the men’s teams competing against each other, she desires recognition and backing for the women’s team.
Feroze expresses his awareness of the challenges faced by men speaking publicly about this matter in their home country due to the ruling government. However, he suggests that they could still advocate for their women’s team in private conversations. He proposes that they could send an email to the International Cricket Council (ICC) to show their support and urge them to accept the players from their country. Despite the women’s team consistently supporting the men’s team, they have not received any support in return, which is disappointing.
Latifi has found the men’s team’s progress and development during the previous World Cup to be motivating. They have identified and learned from their errors, allowing them to defeat any opponent. As long as they bring joy to our community, that is all I desire. It demonstrates that with dedication and ambition, anything is possible.
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