KABUL – Despite the widespread issue of coronavirus in the country, the Afghanistan cricket team began a month-long training camp on Sunday here. Afghanistan has officially recorded more than 20,000 cases countrywide, but the actual number is believed to be much higher.

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Still, the Afghanistan Cricket Board announced the start of the training camp for its 22 players a day after the government laid out new guidelines to tackle the spread of the virus that includes wearing face masks, social distancing and limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.

Abdullah Pakthani, a spokesperson for the Afghan Cricket Board, said players were under strict orders to abide by government rules for social distancing, and practice will be restricted to five or six players at any one time. The players won’t be tested for COVID-19 but they are not allowed in the stadium if they are unwell or have a fever.

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The cricket board said it started the camp under guidelines of the International Cricket Council and the World Health Organization.

Cricket is the most popular sport in Afghanistan, and Afghans have embraced the national team as a welcome diversion from relentless war and poverty. Stars like Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi are considered national icons.

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But the training camp opens as international aid organizations warn that the coronavirus is still rife within Afghanistan’s 36 million people. Last week, the International Rescue Committee warned Afghanistan was on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

Update: The Afghan cricket team were scheduled to tour Zimbabwe in July and August. On 20 July, the Zimbabwe Cricket requested clearance from the government for the tour to go ahead despite current crisis due to coronavirus. On 8th August 2020, the Afghanistan team scheduled tour to Zimbabwe has been officially called off due to COVID-19 pandemic.