Female footballers: Wasted potential
Women footballers in Pakistan have achieved unimaginable milestones, but their potential is being wasted.
In a time when Pakistan faces multifaceted challenges in the shape of religious militancy and deteriorating security conditions, female footballers across the country have made laudable efforts to help Pakistan to do away with the impression of a bigoted and unsafe country.
Despite numerous social and financial obstacles, as well as the unsporting attitude of society, female footballers have taken the game with pride, performed it with passion and as a result spread it to the areas, where tribal and gender insecurity give no space for survival to women.
Breaking the chains of conservatism
The latest example of this is the completion of the 4th National Women’s Inter-Club Championship, which was held in five different cities including Peshawar and Quetta. In the championship, apart from various Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad outfits, three teams from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and four from Balochistan also participated.
Another team from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) was forced to withdraw from the qualifiers because their players were not awarded clearance to travel to Peshawar due to security concerns. Nonetheless, this was a big step forward from the past, when females from these regions did not participate in football at all.
Overall 23 clubs participated in this year’s championship, while the last time the same number was 14. The top two teams of Lahore and Islamabad zone will now travel, along with the champions of Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar Zone, into the 7th National Women’s Championship slated to run at Islamabad’s Jinnah Stadium from September 17-30, 2011. Similarly, with the growing popularity and increase in number of participating clubs, the National Championship will now feature seven teams instead of four.
The credit for this milestone must go to the female footballers, not only for breaking taboos of social conservatism by contesting from remote areas which have been severely affected by the war against terror, but also for successfully completing the tournament peacefully, despite threats from extremist elements.
Inclusion is World FIFA rankings
The female footballers achieved yet another feat this year, when FIFA officially included the Pakistan Women football team in the FIFA Women’s World Ranking. Earlier Pakistan was in the provisional list of the global game’s governing body but on March 18, 2011, when FIFA issued their latest ranking, they included Pakistan at the 121st position in the world, and 23rd in Asia.
What others could not do
At a time when foreign teams and sportsmen of cricket, hockey, squash and others, refuse to travel and play in Pakistan, once again the National Women’s Football Championship must be credited for successfully attracting international teams from Iran (Malavan Football Club) and Afghanistan (National team) in 2009 and 2007 respectively, to contest in the event here, thus proving that Pakistan is as safe and welcoming a land as any other for football.
However, just having playing-opportunities, that too at the local level, is not enough to develop a sound national team. The problem is the domestic structure: It is weak.
It is ironic that despite the sport’s popularity and potential, football is treated as a recreational activity and not a professional sport for women in Pakistan.
Unless and until conditions are created for women to occupy technical and managerial positions in football, including the domains of refereeing, coaching, medicine and administration, any hope of progress is futile.