“Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Pakistan women’s team wins the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship, that too on our home ground?” remarked Pakistan men’s football team captain Kaleemullah.
“We want to see women’s football grow, but with the [sluggish] pace we have right now, the journey seems an arduous one,” he added.
If we analyse the current scenario of women football in Pakistan, this will be the crux of the matter. It needs to improve — and fast. Compared to top regional countries like India and Nepal, who have been dominating the regional championship since 2010, there is plenty of catching up to do.
This year, the event will be taking place in Lahore and the national training camp has already started almost three months ahead of the eventual championship in November.
But this time, it is going to be men behind a successful women’s football team.
While watching the women’s national championship last month, Kaleemullah realised the need of not only a regular high-profile league for women in Pakistan football, but also the necessity of providing international exposure to the country’s female players.
“I can’t deny the talent in our women footballers, but it’s evident that they need more time on the field,” commented Kaleemullah, who is the highest-paid Pakistan footballer playing for an international club. “There needs to be a league for them over a span of several months.
“As a professional footballer, I want to see the women steal the spotlight by benefitting from a major event like Saff Women’s Championship. It’s going to happen in our backyard; the media and the fans will come to see it, and I really want the audience to be impressed by our women’s team.”
The Chaman-based striker further analysed that female footballers need more confidence as well.
“There’s certainly a lack of confidence. But they are working hard; Hajra Khan is one example. She performed well in the national championship for Balochistan United (BU).
“However, it’s a different story when you are playing for the national team. In India and Nepal, their entire squads play like Hajra and here you only have one. But I’m hopeful because Tariq Lutfi, their new coach, has the ability to instil confidence in the players.”
Kaleemullah pointed out that it was in fact the inclusion of men’s team coaches that helped propel BU to an outstanding win in the championship.
“You see, clubs like BU, Young Rising Star and others don’t have professional coaches. With Lutfi’s efforts, we can see that the competition level of the local championship has also improved.”
He concluded that women’s football, in general, is on track to gradual popularity in Pakistan.
“I think they need more local tournaments to participate in. With just one championship, these women can play for 25 years and still wouldn’t progress any further internationally.”
Meanwhile, Lutfi, the former men’s national team coach, said that the tricky part is to mentally prepare the women’s team for an international competition.
“We need a lot of patience for the female footballers to catch up with the basics and the technical aspects of the game,” said Lutfi.
“We are constantly motivating them to raise the bar and remain focused.”
As for the Saff championship, Lutfi agreed that lack of exposure is a drawback, but he believes that starting from the scratch is a blessing in disguise.
He remarked that women’s football has a lot of scope and now the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) is taking more interest in the players and coaches than ever before.
“We may have two practice tours as well before the championship,” said Lutfi. “The PFF is doing its bit, now it’s up to the players to give their best.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2014.