HK shuts door to Afghan stars
The Afghanistan national team have been declared personae non grata by the Hong Kong Immigration Department, which rejected a request from the sport's local governing body to invite the world's hottest associate member country to the Karp Group Hong Kong Sixes in October.
'We have made preliminary inquiries with Hong Kong Immigration Department officials about getting Afghanistan down for the Hong Kong Sixes and have been told there is no chance,' Hong Kong Cricket Association general manager Danny Lai said.
'They have indicated to us that unless our event was an Olympic qualifying event, or something similar to that on an Asian level, Afghanistan would not get visas,' Lai added.
In 2010, Afghanistan's cricketers were allowed to travel to the Asian Games in Guangzhou, where they reached the final against Bangladesh but had to settle for the silver medal.
A spokesperson for the Immigration Department said last night athletes coming to Hong Kong to take part in international sports events would be regarded as taking up employment and require an employment visa.
'Under the prevailing policy, the entry arrangement for employment does not apply to nationals of Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Nepal and Vietnam,' the spokesperson said.
Afghanistan, who last month qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 in Colombo in September, have been targeted for the Hong Kong Sixes because of their ability to attract world interest.
The HKCA feels Asia's number one associate country would not only be a huge drawing card locally, but would further raise the global profile of the Sixes.
'Afghanistan is a great attraction and we will continue to press the Immigration Department to change their view,' HKCA president Shahzada Saleem said.
'I will meet immigration and government officials personally to try to convince them to grant visas.'
Cricket in Afghanistan only started about 10 years ago, sparked by people returning from refugee camps inside Pakistan. The game has become a unifying power in the war-torn country as evidenced in February, when the Taliban sent a message of support on the eve of Afghanistan's first one-day international against Pakistan in Sharjah. President Hamid Karzai also phoned officials regularly for score updates. The match was shown live on national television and watched by millions.
The country's minister of finance, Omar Zakhilwal, was quoted as saying 'nothing has ever brought us together like this'. Afghanistan lost, but for a brief moment cricket had brought all warring factions together.
HKCA officials hope the Sixes can provide Afghanistan with another opportunity to showcase their skills on the international stage. 'We can both benefit. They get a chance to play on a world stage, while we can raise the profile of the Sixes even further,' Lai said.
The emergence of Afghanistan on the world scene has been nothing short of a fairy tale. The national team were formed in 2001 when they became an affiliate member of the International Cricket Council. They became a member of the Asian Cricket Council in 2003 and starting from Division Five, they rose through the ranks of the ICC World Cricket League to be among the top six associate members in Division One.
'They would generate huge interest if they were to come to Hong Kong,' Saleem said.