"It is about setting higher standards, because only saying we need women coaches is not enough," Pakistan's star defender and national champion footballer Malika-e-Noor insists as she is a part of the Pakistan Football Federation's online introductory women's coaching course.
Malika has been in her home-town in Gilgit, while she believes she wanted to be a part of the PFF online introductory coaching course that is conducted by national coach Tariq Lutfi, because at the end of the day it is her efforts in improving the standard of football that will count and starting out with this course offered right now is the key at the time of Covid-19 that had paralysed the world sports earlier while the number of cases are rapidly increasing in Pakistan still.
The Army captain affirms that it is about setting higher standards to even think about making substantial change for women football in Pakistan.
"I wanted to be a part of this course, I told my department that I want to be nominated," Malika told The Express Tribune. "It is important for me to take it because I can't waste this time, we are all sitting here in quarantine, there is a pandemic, no football for anyone, no sport and I want to make sure that I'm not missing out on any opportunity to improve, especially with coaching, because this is something I really want to do.”
Malika said that even though she does not have any certification in coaching her aim is to gain as much knowledge as she can, but even without having the coaching certification, her mind is set on helping the upcoming footballers, even as a player she believes the aim is to make sure that the newer ones get confidence and have the opportunities to learn.
"This is the first time I'm taking a coaching course, yes, I'm asking all the questions from our coach, I really am learning from Lutfi, because he has been our national women's team coach as well, and he has been very organised too, so my questions are about the challenges that we face on regularly basis, that I have faced as a player as well, there is a lot of discussion on tha and even as a player when I'm at my department I tried to help the juniors the younger ones because it is impossible for the coach to look at every player individually. I always try to help and teach my juniors and convey the knowledge that I have," said Malika.
Meanwhile, she admitted that it is high time for Pakistan to have more clubs and academies, and she too wants to have an academy where players can be groomed, but before that she points out a huge void that is the domestic football league system and even the lack of opportunities for developing young talent on local level, and the absence of pathways makes it harder for women footballers to come forward and use their potential properly.
"I am coaching players at universities, I'm coaching the teams there, and there is a gap, a lot of players they don't have the proper forums, we don't have academies, and the few clubs that we have they can be very competitive too. So a player doesn't get the time to groom their talent or even understand what the game is.
“I'm coaching in universities you see that many girls want to play, but on national level, they never find their place because of the system, the clubs may even have players who are older and not fit to play anymore and the younger talent is not getting the chance to even come to the national championship level, so my aim is to groom the talent, teach them what I know and improve myself too in the process, and we need academies and better club system for it," explains Malika.
On the other hand, she said that the biggest advantage of the course is that she would want to pursue Licence C afterwards but at the same time, it is about getting clarity of concepts.
"So far the course has been more than I expected, lots of clarity on the FIFA rules of the game, because many of us tend to forget details, and locally the coaches don't update themselves with the changes, so that is supremely helpful. I learned a lot from Lutfi. My questions were about how to manage the teams and how we can make it better for the players, organising a team," said Malika, who is also a mother and believes that her time with online course as also given her son an opportunity to be a little more independent and for her to reconnect with sport in the absence of on-the-field action.
Setting standard for coaches
Malika believes that it is not enough to say that there should be more female coaches, it is about having physically fit coaches who can be competent.
"When we were young we used to think the same that more female coaches will be better, but coaches, male or female, they should at least be fit and strong enough to lead by example, just being a woman and a coach is not enough," emphasised Malika.
"My priority is to be physically fit, I want coaches who can play with us who can lead us on the field too, but the culture of saying that there should be coaches who are women, but not physically at par is equally bad as having a male coach who is not physically fit and can't lead properly on the field. It is not about getting the title, it is about doing the job and setting standards that even female coaches can train men, it is about setting higher standard for ourselves and for women's football."
Similarly, Diya FC player Uroosa Nawaz said that more courses on caching are needed for women specifically, and the current course has helped her in relearning the rules.
"It has been a good warm-up now that we are all stuck at home, but it is a great initiative by the PFF. I'm learning how to treat the players better, I have been coaching U-9 children at Diya FC as well, and this course has been insightful for me," said the 21-year-old.
Women better at coaching
Lutfi believes that the coaching course for the participants have been a surprise and a spirited one after the refreshers coaching curse for women earlier this month.
"We weren't expecting such zeal and so much eagerness really, but their questions are so good and they are all going to make strides in coaching I'm sure," said Lutfi.
"The key is that women, they are better at learning, and when it comes to coaching they are so keen on educating themselves, you compare that with men, they think they have played before they know the game and don't want to further educate themselves. That is the difference, the girls here, like Malika and others, who have been playing and have careers to play still, they have the ambition to learn, to get certifications to pursue it as an education, compared to men who don't see it as a means to education or improving the standard of their game. They are not serious about the educational aspect at all, while women are better at it, they understand the importance, and it is so refreshing to see the participants in the introductory course to be eager to learn. I'm very happy with the results here."
The Online Women's Introductory Coaching Course began on June 26 with 27 with participants coming from 16 different football clubs and departments across the country. Lutfi has been assisted by Nasir Ismail and Mohsinul Hasnain during the course. This course is a part of the PFF's month-long Online Coaching Courses program which started off with the Women's Coaching Refresher Course. Online Refresher Courses for the Pakistan Premier Football League and Pakistan Football Federation League coaches and an Introductory Coaching Course for men will also be held later, according to the PFF press release.
Covid-relief fund spells fortune for women’s football
Fifa council have announced the Covid-19 relief fund of up to $1.5billion on June 25 to assist the football community internationally in the time of the pandemic, in the media statement on the website it said, the grants and loans will be given to the member associations in three stages.
"In the first two stages of the plan, FIFA provided for the immediate release of all forward operational‑cost payments to member associations and, subsequently, for the opportunity to transform Forward development grants into Covid-19 operational relief funds – with a minimum of 50% of released funds to be allocated to women’s football.
In stage three, approved by the Council today, further financial support will be provided through a system of grants and loans.
Grants: a universal solidarity grant of $1 million will be made available to all member associations, and an additional grant of $500,000 will be allocated specifically to women’s football. In addition, each confederation will receive a grant of $2 million."
The PFF Normalisation Committee chief Humza Khan said that it is a good sign and appreciated the announcement by Fifa, but he added that there are still more notifications to come and the relief effort by PFF will go on, and was planned even before the announcement of grants by Fifa, and as more information will come through PFF will make sure that the players are helped in the best way.