Skip to main content

Let the Games Begin…



Originally intended for the Good Times (magazine), posting it here.

VENUE: The Second Floor (T2F)

Sporting sagas could always use a rag-tag team to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Shifting the lens towards female players posed against a conservative backdrop who defy gravity and dare to dream puts an empowering spin on the chosen narrative. While underdogs make trusty hooks, women with gumption never go out of style.

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.

Politics cause added stress fractures on the local front. Despite these hurdles the Pakistani women have preserved and made inroads. There are rough patches and dark days. A scene where the Zanzibar team, seen in Coca Cola sponsored T-shirts is expected to play without water or soda raises eyebrows. The local payers can relate to their plight including the water deprivation part. That this happened at a national level and not in a backwater township is clearly a source of concern.

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.

The lack of proper support on a State level also holds them back. They have introduced the first national ‘Under 12’ and ‘Under 10’ girls’ academy in the region and bear witness to the social impact on disenfranchised youth hailing from rough neighborhoods like Golimar, Lyari or Manghpir. Both women have a vision of the future where football is not regarded as a summer fling to be cast aside when real life comes a calling. Mashal sees a love of sports opening up new vistas leading to infrastructure development, apparel design, or ground maintenance. She insists that this is an investment worth making and points to the array of rewards that come along with it – like the wonderful camaraderie, self-belief, or support networks. The two are living proof of the transformative power of sports and share their wish-list which includes widening the net and an athlete pool to choose from, for starters.

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.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Book of Davis - Reading between the lines

Published by Global Affairs / Aug 2017

Raymond Davis is a champ. A team player, who puts the needs of his comrades in arms before himself. He is savvy. He is a man of integrity - a survivor - a trooper. Ray, the epitome of courage runs headlong towards danger and into a minefield - literally. He is all this and more. This is his story after all.

6 years ago, he was a trained Special Forces SF, undercover ‘contractor’, forced to navigate the cramped alleyways of Lahore on a routine mission – the details of which remain a mystery. His book ‘The Contractor: How I Landed in a Pakistani Prison and Ignited a Diplomatic Crisis’ with Storms Reback, revisits the scene of the crime to solidify his innocence and along the way take a few potshots at random players who helped secure his release. It’s a hair-raising ride.

His style is conversational, his demeanor - amiable. The case is still fresh in people’s minds and his intent to set the record straight ignites yet another round of controversy…

OPED: Keeping the Truth & Reconciliation Train on Track in Pakistan & Bangladesh

Published by Global Affairs / June 2017

It is no secret that Pakistan’s Eastern Wing broke away or that India helped carve Bangladesh in 1971. There were weaknesses to be exploited and deep seated resentments that left sizeable fissures in between Pakistan’s East and West wing. The Indian PM Modi can now tip his hat to 1,661 Indian soldiers allied with an armed resistance – the dreaded Mukti Bahini without fear of reprisal. Of late, there have been whispers about a KGB element in the mix. But the past is over and done with. Or is it?

There was madness and mayhem and civil unrest. Both sides suffered. The figure of three million offered by Bangladesh however has been widely disputed. While there has been a lot of water under the bridge since 1971- there has not been any serious attempt at breaching the divide. But most Pakistanis have not whitewashed their history and acknowledge their errors in judgment and lack of political foresight that led to the debacle.

‘The wall between Bangl…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.


Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

OPED: Radd-ul-Fassad – An Urgent Revision in the Wake of Mashal Khan's Lynching

Published Global Affairs / June 2017

Written in the immediate aftermath of Mashal Khan's lynching

On December 2014, 148 people, mostly school kids were murdered by terrorists in the APS (Army Public School) school massacre. In April 2017, a university student was lynched in Mardan. One tragedy marked a turning point. Another opens a Pandora’s Box.

APS happened while Operation Zarb-e-Azb was underway. It shook the nation to its very core; and pushed the armed forces to expand the scope of its offensives. Military courts were set up in the aftermath. A death row inmate (Qadri), once lauded by clergy and lawyers for killing a Governor, was finally executed along with scores of militants.

And soon another operation would come into effect after shrines, rallies and public places were targeted in a resurgence of terror in 2017. If the first was driven by vengeance, the second came from desperation. Pakistan’s survival was at stake – unless it tackled the darkness head on. But the dark…

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Operation Geronimo – the Betrayal and Execution of Osama Bin Laden and its Aftermath

Published in Daily Times (Pakistan) / 27 April 2013
Author: Shaukat Qadir
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal



Book Cover Courtesy: Link

The insider account by a former SEAL later used to prop up the raid sequence of ‘Zero Dark Thirty fills in the dramatic details but a change in vantage point zooms in on the Pakistani equation. In less than a 100 pages, the author proceeds to tie up loose ends leftover from the reams of official spin surrounding the events of May 1 2011.

He is a retired infantry Brigadier from Pakistan Army who uses his unprecedented access to the corridors of military power to launch an independent inquiry into the incident. His research takes in isolated facts, hidden motives and shadowy agendas to create an alternate timeline of events. They correspond with the main outlines of the sanctioned version but differ in the approach. The resultant document builds an appealing profile that demands a second look at the so called ‘mansion’ in Abbottabad and the dead man walking within…