WITH the Pakistan women’s cricket team qualifying for the ICC World Cup in Colombo on Sunday, a new hope that talented sportswomen in the country will be encouraged to perform in national and international events has been kindled. Though it was a mixed show put up at the qualifiers by Captain Sana Mir’s charges, who unfortunately have yet to break the Indian jinx, the players still managed to do well by beating Bangladesh, Scotland and Ireland thanks to handsome contributions from Javeria Khan, Naheeda Khan, Ayesha Zafar and the skipper herself. One hopes that the determination exhibited on the field will translate into further laurels. In any case, their efforts must be lauded. Indeed, cricket is not the only sport where Pakistani women have shown promise. Football captain Hajra Khan, athlete Naseem Hameed, swimming’s ‘golden girl’ Kiran Khan, tennis sensation Ushna Sohail and scores of others have made their mark with competitive performances at home and abroad. But are these sportswomen getting the same respect and encouragement as their male counterparts?
It is true that in the past decade and a half, sportswomen have brought pride to Pakistanis by performing well even in male-dominated sports such as cricket, hockey, boxing, football, the martial arts, mountaineering and rugby. Unfortunately, these impressive strides have not been seen as significant enough to stir a revolution. For that, the social dynamics will have to change. The challenges faced by women in their professional careers are heightened in sports. Right from the moment a young girl expresses her wish to compete, a struggle ensues as she faces stiff opposition from her family and her teachers, besides facing discriminatory behaviour from sports organisers and exploitation by coaches. The media, too, is largely reluctant to give successful sportswomen prime-time viewership or the space they deserve. For instance, our women’s football team is ranked at 170 despite the meagre opportunities coming its way. But it is the national men’s football team, ranked at a lowly 198, that is perennially in the news. Such attitudes will surely need to change as they have contributed to the perception that the urge to compete, in sports or otherwise, is not ‘feminine’. This discourages women, who eventually give up their dreams.
What would give great impetus to women’s sports are the government’s patronage and determined backing by sponsors; dedicated coaching facilities and playgrounds, sadly missing, would have been a key factor in such support. Unfortunately, the government has been woefully wanting in its response, and there are hardly any sponsors who take an interest. It is about time that Pakistan recognised and honoured its women heroes. Provided excellent opportunities by the state to excel and wholeheartedly supported by society, sportsmen such as Jahangir Khan, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Islahuddin, Samiullah and many others did the country proud. Surely women should not be made to feel that their efforts are inferior.