Palwasha Bashir: No crown for courting

Published: June 15, 2014
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Being a female badminto. n player in a cricket-loving nation is a tough call. PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO

Being a female badminto. n player in a cricket-loving nation is a tough call. PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO

Despite being one of topmost female athletes in the country, Palwasha Bashir is not a household name in Pakistan. The 26-year-old from Karachi is the reigning badminton national champion and has maintained her stronghold on the trophy for the last four years. However, due to the lack of support for the so-called ‘smaller’ sports such as badminton, it is challenging for players like Bashir to fulfill their dreams and attain global recognition.

Since cricket remains the most ardently played and followed sport in Pakistan, the women players representing the nation on the pitch have been awarded central contracts and fared far better than players like Bashir, who opted for lesser-known sports like badminton. The bleak prospects, however, have not dampened her zest of winning against all odds. “I have not been overwhelmed with the tough circumstances,” says Bashir. “There is no way that I am going to throw in the towel before achieving something substantial at least at the regional and Asian level.”

Being a female badminto. n player in a cricket-loving nation is a tough call. PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO

As Bashir trains for a top-ranked badminton tournament alongside her coach Iftikhar Hussain for three hours in the sweltering Karachi heat, he can’t help but applaud the young woman’s determination and potential. But the fact remains that Palwasha — bronze medal winner in the South Asian Federation (SAF) games in 2010 — hasn’t featured in a major event outside the country for three years now.

“Palwasha is a good player who can trouble the best in the business,” says Hussain who was a renowned doubles player himself in the 1990s. “But then how can I be sure of her talent? She hasn’t been exposed to competition from her Asian peers for a long time now which is nothing less than a tragedy for someone of her talent.”

He adds that along with international exposure, the overall standard of the game within the country was also plummeting. “Not long ago we were a potent force in the region and regularly used to topple India. Forget India, we can’t even win against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh any more,” he says.

Palwasha’s story is similar to that of many female sports stars in the country. The patriarchal setup in the country not only discourages women from taking up sports but even those like Bashir, who break free of stereotypes, have to put up a constant struggle for recognition and resources.

Being a female badminto. n player in a cricket-loving nation is a tough call. PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO

Sara Mohmand, another top-ranked female player, who recently moved to Melbourne, also shares similar concerns. “The Australian national team is getting exposure all over the world, there are top class academies and the players might not be getting great money but they are playing all over,” says Mohmand who is currently being trained by Ong Ben Teong, a former world number two, along with her spouse who is also a leading national player. “On the contrary there is no such concept in Pakistan where players have no such facility available to them.”

Moreover, Mohmand complains that female players in the country always play in the shadows of their male counterparts. They are given poor cash prizes and there is still a gender disparity in the sport. Bashir is of the same opinion. “Badminton is becoming increasingly competitive and increasingly expensive,” she says. The cost of the equipment often exceeds the prize money which makes it tough for girls who don’t have sponsorship to play the sport at the top-level. For example, the prize money for the recent championship in Lahore was Rs10,000 which is equivalent to the price of a good quality racket.

Being a female badminto. n player in a cricket-loving nation is a tough call. PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO

Bashir’s financial concerns have eased up slightly after landing a permanent job with the National Bank of Pakistan. Even though the salary is meager, the support from her family compensates for it. “As a kid, my brothers encouraged me to play cricket on the street. Soon I was playing street badminton too and around the age of 13, I realised I am in it for the long haul.” She also credits her department for their consistent support but admits that much more needs to be done.

Across the border, the Indian Badminton Federation has been pumping in money into the sport after successfully initiating a premier league along the lines of the cash-rich Indian Premier League. Bashir craves for the opportunity to play in such a league. “It goes without saying that I want to feature in the league. In fact most of the national players want to be tested against the best, not to mention that the league is also financially rewarding,” she says. “Like top sportsmen from around the world, we also need that sort of recognition and money to continue the pursuit of our professional goals.”

For Bashir and her fellow shuttlers in the country, the real cause for concern is the galling behaviour of the sporting authorities who have failed to settle the dispute between the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) and Pakistan Olympic Association (POA). The two bodies have been at loggerheads for nearly two years now, each claiming to be the parent body of sports in the country. Their rift has also seen a mushrooming of parallel bodies in almost all sporting federations, and badminton is no exception. While one of the governing bodies works under PSB, the other one operates under POA and the chaos has resulted in a three-year international ban for Pakistan.

Being a female badminto. n player in a cricket-loving nation is a tough call. PHOTOS: ARIF SOOMRO

In this tug of war between governing bodies, the professional players in the country have paid the biggest price. “At the end of the day an ordinary player suffers the most. Both organisations claim that they have the requisite mandate but of course it is tough to convince the international bodies,” explains Bashir.

A sane approach that fosters growth in sports rather than dividing players and resources in camps is the need of the hour. Unless that happens, the only stories in the country’s sports history would be of those who never made it to the finish line due to circumstances beyond their control.

Emmad Hameed is the sports in-charge at The Express Tribune. He tweets @Emmad81

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 15th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Lunacyassailam
    Jun 15, 2014 - 3:12PM

    A Scythian badminton player?Wow.Best of Luck Palwasha Bashir.Good to know that Pak has aspiring women.

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  • Chachoo
    Jun 15, 2014 - 5:34PM

    @Lunacyassailam : So your so called Fake Glory and Race Pride crept in here as well.? There was any need to mention Scythian here?. Some people never learn and live in their false affection of so called Fake Great history and Race.

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  • Lunacyassailam
    Jun 15, 2014 - 5:47PM

    @Chachoo: Some people never learn and live in their false affection of so called Fake Great history and Race.

    No affection to race, but yeh India is not Arabia, and Pakistan is a new state, I am talking about your people(predating the concept of Pakistan and Islam).I was just surprised to see a Scythian Badminton player.She is real good.Whats soo wrong in calling people by their original ethnicity?.You may believe in a Global Ummah, but we dont.So?I see nothing wrong.

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  • Jun 15, 2014 - 8:56PM

    she is very rude when she plays oponent player; she need sportman spirt

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  • TAM
    Jun 15, 2014 - 9:37PM

    Pakistan is land of orthodox people, it destroy the nation and country.
    Mainstream groups demolished the country image and our country is out of the race in all fields.
    I am very happy to see such talent in our country.
    Keep it up.

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  • Ihsan
    Jun 16, 2014 - 3:33PM

    I want to correct the writer. Palwasha is not the reigning national champion and it Shabnam Bilal who is the national champion by lifting the title in the National Championship held recently in Karachi.

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  • Emmad Hameed
    Jun 16, 2014 - 5:06PM

    @Ihsan… there remains a slight difference between badminton and table tennis, Shabnam is the reigning national table tennis champion, Palwasha plays badminton :) please proceed to a near-by sports facility/complex and figure out the difference between the two sports!

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  • Shah . M
    Jun 17, 2014 - 12:36PM

    Palwasha Bashir is amazing! Not only is she a fabulous badminton player, she is also a really nice person. She spent a good 30 minutes with my bratty little sister, discussing badminton and how to improve my sister’s game!
    p.s. my sister is 12!

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  • Shah . M
    Jun 17, 2014 - 12:43PM

    @pir:
    There’s nothing wrong with jumping with joy when you win – or being bummed when you lose, its natural..

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  • YMB
    Jun 17, 2014 - 1:00PM

    Way to go Palwasha Bashir….
    You make us proud…..

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  • Syed
    Jun 17, 2014 - 8:17PM

    Concern about PSB and POA is very valid, and should be quickly resolved by the government…. but who am I asking? the government has made a joke of even cricket board.

    Besides this, the athletes especially of fringe sports do struggle to get scholarships even in US and work jobs to make ends meet, and still go through much stiffer competition if they are really passionate about what they do. For the main popular sports the scholarships are there but the aspiring athletes and his/her parents have to work real hard and spend lot money to get to that level.
    Real job of the boards and the society is to promote local participation and competition at grass roots level and make the game popular, and use it as tool to make well rounded individuals. You do that the international success and sponsorships will come themselves.

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  • Myra Gill
    Jun 17, 2014 - 9:14PM

    i agree a great deal to this article. I love badminton and followed indian badminton league thoroughly. I am amazed how India has progressed. Both nations came into being at the same time yet the difference between the two is paramount. Other than cricket there isnt a single sport alive in our country let alone the National game. I am not against cricket. Every game has its fans but it saddens me that how no funding is available for aspiring players of table tennis, badminton, squash and just only cricket.

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  • Z.AN
    Jun 24, 2014 - 7:11PM

    Palwasha’s skill and playing spirit is phenomenal- adds a certain kick to women badminton scenario of Pakistan. Keep it up

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  • Farzana Abdullah
    Jun 30, 2014 - 4:10PM

    It’s great to see the female youth stepping up for the country at various sporting platforms. Wishing Palwasha all the best!

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