After eight years of international footballers exile, Pakistan women players are positive about the chance to compete in an international championship.
It’s 42 degrees Celsius in Islamabad the capital of Pakistan as well Karishma Ali is working for two hours in a row.
However, the scorching heat isn’t making her feel miserable. She must take four breaks to drink water and still perform her routine. Ali 25 is from Pakistan’s picturesque mountains of Chitral located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan. She was the persona of Pakistan and the country’s sport scene in the year 2003 in the year Forbes included her on the list of 30 under 30..
In just 2 months Ali will finally have the opportunity to wear Pakistan’s national flag that she’s always wanted to do and represent her country at the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, scheduled to be held in Nepal from September 6 to 19.
“There is no greater honor than being a national representative in any sports event,” she says. “And I’m no different. I’ve been working all through the year without knowing what the future holds So I’m really happy.”
Participation in the tournament was possible because the world’s governing body for sports, FIFA, lifted a 15-month ban that was imposed on the country in early March which made the women’s squad the first beneficiary.
Umaid Wasim, sport’s editor for Dawn, Pakistan’s English newspaper Dawn In the days before the country was barred by FIFA in the past, there was just women’s soccer played within the nation. “It’s fitting that now that soccer is returning, but it’s best for the women’s team that gets the first shot,” he says.
Wasim says that the women’s squad has been through a lot as they’ve not played since the last eight years. “So returning to full strength and the team’s presence at the SAFF championships is very significant for the women.”
For Nepal, Pakistan women’s team will compete at the beginning of the year for the first time at any international event since 2014.
Wasim But, Wasim is quick to warn that the outcome — how the team is playing in the end, is irrelevant. “Performance isn’t important here. The main thing is returning the team to the field is the most important thing.”
In spite of the odds
In Islamabad in Pakistan, where Ali is a trainer She is the sole female among two dozen males.
“I am in love with it. It has given me plenty of challenges. It has created a mindset in me , where I believe I must challenge myself to the limit. This gives me a new degree of endurance and assists me in developing a new kind of game,” she says.
However, it’s never been so smooth for her.
“People in other countries tend to ignore the fact that the sport of football played on the field in Pakistan for women has an entirely different set of challenges,” she says. “The cultural differences are distinct.”
But, as women participating in the sport have become an everyday sight in clubs and parks and clubs, the general public, too, are starting to embrace it. So much that numerous families have begun to cheer on their daughters while they play.
A countrywide one-month National Women’s Championship organised by the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) in the year 2000 is a testimony to this. Hundreds of women from various areas of Pakistan were involved as representatives of their respective clubs and cities.
Although the tournament was cancelled due to a conflict within the PFF–a situation that eventually caused an exclusion of Pakistan football by FIFA — it was still viewed as an enormous leap in promoting the sport to women.
Ali the founder of Chitral Women’s Sports Club in 2016 and is thrilled to witness this positive change as she was not given these opportunities as a child.
“Women need to give up more than men to participate in the sport in Pakistan. It was truly uplifting to see athletes from all over Gilgit-Baltistan up to Hazara and Karachi compete in the tournament,” she says.
Ali was once close to being a member of the Pakistani national team. The year 2018 saw her picked to participate in the national camp however, it didn’t happen.
She claims she is doing her best and will continue to work hard. “I will be 100% committed in the event that I am able to sport that Pakistani jersey. Should it not happen, I’ll show my support for the girls in the seats.”