"Futsal is meant for women I feel, but in Pakistan they only focus on men," expresses Shumaila Gulab Hussain, who not only got declared as one of the best players in All Karachi U23 Chase Up Girls Futsal Tournament this week, but has also represented Pakistan internationally.
The 16-year-old has been playing football with Diya FC, as her team lifted the trophy at the event. She believes that it is unfair for women to not be seen as competitive as boys in futsal.
"There are a lot more tournaments and activities for boys and men but not much futsal for women. It is always occasional," Hussain told The Express Tribune. "It is frustrating. I have played football since I was in grade three and I enjoy it, but I also feel that futsal helps us develop skills better. It is fast-paced and I feel more futsal events should take place for girls."
The Aga Khan School student added that in Karachi a futsal tournament takes place each year, but it is on an inter-school level, whereas there is a need for the inter-club futsal tournament for girls."The 11-a-side football is great for building mental strength but futsal really helps with developing the skills. We hardly get opportunities for it. I really feel that boys get more of sports, but specifically for futsal, girls are always overlooked, and more so in Karachi," explained Shumaila. "It will help the girls stick to the game. I feel more promotion is needed. Mostly girls leave because they don't see the scope or future."
The tournament was organised by Sindh Women Futsal Association and eight teams competed in it. Diya FC won the final 8-2 against Karachi Ladies Football Club.
Shumaila, like her teammates Marium Zehri and Zunaira Shah have represented Pakistan at the South Asian Football Federation and Asian Football Confederation events in Bhutan and Mongolia in 2018. In both tournaments Pakistan were thrashed badly by their opponents, and the 15-year-old Zunaira feels that can change if futsal becomes a regular part of the football echo-system in Pakistan.
"We were so badly beaten in Bhutan and Mongolia, because their women were not only physically stronger, but also had better skills," said Zunaira. "This tournament helped because it was on Asociación Mundial de Futsal (AMF) rules which are slightly different. Like more than five fouls can get you a yellow and scoring the goals is a bit different. I learned a lot, but again, we need more of futsal. I enjoyed AMF futsal too, but mostly because we need to develop the skills. The 11-a-side format helps with strength, but this helps with everything a little more.”
Similarly, Marium added that futsal suits girls better than boys. "If you look at it, it is so much more useful for women, especially in Pakistan and Karachi," said the 17-year-old. “It makes us girls move faster, because in a usual football match, we tend to play slower. But we need more platforms and tournaments."
On the other hand, the organiser and Diya FC founder Sadia Sheikh believes that futsal is much more accessible, as well as easy on budget and has bright future for young players and women."We only need eight players, it is easier on pocket, like one may need Rs500,000 for a football event, but for futsal, you need only Rs300,000. Logistically it is so easier to manage. We can use any surface, any small place, especially in cities like Karachi where grass is so hard to find, futsal makes a lot more sense for us. Now at my club we are having equal amount of sessions for both football and futsal," said Sheikh.
She added that with shorter format of 40 minutes and five-a-side and even seven-a-side, more development can be done."It is great for teaching skills. Futsal started in Islamabad first, then Balochistan and now in Karachi. We want to push the AMF format further, and have national championships too," said Sheikh.
She concluded that despite her requests from the previous Pakistan Football Federation administration, futsal was never given a priority, and women's football has suffered because of misogynistic attitudes. However, she is hopeful that things will change if the focus is on developing the sports and the players.Her club will be competing at the PFF National Women's championship too which is chalked for next month.
"We can't compete with Nepal or India. Their girls are far ahead. We may just need to go back to basics in order to excel," said Sheikh. "Futsal may be that way of going back to basics.”