Feature : Empowering women through football [Express Tribune]

Feature : Empowering women through football [Express Tribune]

Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
KARACHI: Sadia Sheikh works three jobs just to run the Diya Women Football Club and that defines her passion, not only for football but also for her desire to empower women through sports.

Sadia is the founder and an occasional goalkeeper for her club team, Diya WFC, which is a regular at the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Women Championship every year.

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The club has also produced national players like Hajra Khan, Quratulain Ashraf and Fatima Ansari, among many.

“Football is my second religion,” Sadia told The Express Tribune. “I’m not married, but mostly I tell people that I’m married to my passion for football. And all these girls who come to play for my club are my children.”

Running a football club is tough. In a country where sports are not given any importance, finding supporters for women football is even harder.

While the finances are usually a tricky matter, Sadia has been working at Sindh Sports Boards at Greenwich University, Karachi, as the sports manager, just to keep the money rolling to organise football events for her club.

Her interest in sports began at school, she explained. “In Sharjah, where I was studying in ninth grade, I met two siblings, a brother and a sister. They used to play football at that time and I began playing as well.

“In Sharjah, where I was studying in ninth grade, I met two siblings, a brother and a sister. They used to play football at that time and I began playing as well.”

But as she played with them, she said that as a foreigner in the field they would try to mock her, however, she continued to play and took their comments as a challenge.

“They would look down upon me and say that they were better than us. So I just played. I decided that I had to play just to prove myself as a female footballer there.”

“I’m a feminist at heart and for me, football is a way of empowering the girls in our society. I came back to Pakistan and played for my college hockey team. But after a while, the attitude and the insensitively towards sportswomen in our society led me to start my own club in 2002.”

Initially Diya WFC had 12 players, but then Sadia’s friends, Durdana Faisal and Mariam Leghari, also came along. The three women started going to different schools to train girls and form basketball and football teams to begin the process.

“We started going to colleges and schools in localities like Kharadar, Garden, Lyari, Korangi and Malir to motivate the girls to play football. We would pick them up and take them to the football ground at Khyaban-e-Rahat, DHA.”

Later, Sadia went on to register with PFF in 2004. She also has the honour of being the first Fifa certified football administrator in the country. She received the certificate in 2011.

Sadia explained that the players coming from lower-income localities have had great success stories. Rukhsar Khan is one example.

The 21-year-old joined Diya WFC in 2009. “I went to the Sindh football trials and Sadia took me in. She saw that I could work hard and she trained me. Now after four years, I have a degree and I’m working. I have my own car and I’m playing football. It all changed after I joined Diya WFC. They groomed me and encouraged me to study further,” said Rukhsar.

Sadia said that like Rukhsar other players have also benefitted from the club. However, loyalties change after a while, she admitted.

“A player needs to be loyal to the club. Hajra went away to Balochistan United and others went to top departments like Wapda and Army. Today I have to build my team again with U16 players since all of my top players have gone to other clubs.”

Talent is important but great players are dedicated to the sport and have a big heart, she concluded. “I want my players to be courageous, not only on the field but also in life.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2014.