Originally intended for the Good Times (magazine), posting it here.
VENUE: The Second Floor (T2F)
Finding them is not that difficult. Mashal Hussain and Khadija Kazmi are the face of KU women’s football. The Karachi United FC – Women’s Squad was launched in 2010. Mashal, who is the ‘Youth Program Coordinator – Women Division Lead’ defines it as a dream job. She is aware of the irony that in most circles it wouldn’t be classified as a career. Her steely determination to push the conversation about women’s sports into development territory based on time spent in the field gives her words an added poignancy.
Mashal and Khadija appear poised to step into their role as potential change-agents and visionaries. They have been involved in arranging championships, training youth, community uplift and welfare projects. Their chosen path is littered with cultural landmines that threaten to derail the growth and development process.
They use an inventive way to sum up their personal experiences by screening a documentary about Zanzibar’s female football team. ‘The New Generation Queens – Football Beyond the Pitch’ directed by Megan Shutzer has been selected because of the similarity of challenges faced by both sides and the regional roadblocks carved from chauvinism and religious bigotry on display. Zanzibar’s spectacular losses somehow become irrelevant to the storyline. Their indefatigable spirit is the showstopper.
Mashal was introduced to the game at 19. She was too old by football standards and remembers her first match against a team of boys on a cricket pitch and being wiped out by their opponents. Fortunately, setbacks or grim statistics are not the final word in their playbook. A select few have embarked on a lonely trek and soldier on, braced for resistance. They relate cautionary tales of parents who support their daughters’ life choices and are dismayed by the limits set that prevent girls from exploring their true potential. Of corporate sponsorships that exist but are targeted at competitions and not, as should be the case, sports development. That development is not driven by tournaments alone is obvious to the players – they can just look on as the pursuit of careers or marriage inevitably pushes athletic ambitions on the back burner.
They now come forward in a bid to sway opinions in their favor. Khadija, who represented Pakistan in the Generation Amazing Program (Qatar) in Brazil 2014 remains a passionate advocate for social change and for platforms that can harness the power of football and bend perceptions. Awareness is needed to counter the state of apathy that exists on every level. The duo is pragmatic. Change doesn’t happen overnight – and they are willing to wait. They realize that they are at the first rung and there are many more to go. Football was their passion and they are in it for the long haul.
For Mashal, Sports Development is next step and she is now headed to Harvard University to pursue a degree that will prepare her for the next chapter of her life.
Casting female footballers from the third world as stakeholders in the art of nation building may be a radical notion. Since they are not just aiming for shelves lined with trophies – success from their vantage point offers a picturesque view of an arena that raises champions and cultivates a culture of sports innovation on the side. It’s a fascinating spectacle.