by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: The preparations for building the national women’s team for South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Championship were impeded by the monsoon rains in Karachi as the mega city was the first stop for the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee’s (NC’s) team of coaches to start trials at.
Karachi trials were to start from July 24 for two days, but the rain that has been wreaking havoc in the city in all the aspects of civic infrastructure paralysed life for all.
“We had to unfortunately postpone the Karachi trials because of the rain and this was our first phase,” certified coach and PFF women’s development officer Qibtia Jamshaid, who is looking after the administrative duties for the national camp preparations, told the Express Tribune. Jamshaid had braved her way to Karachi despite several delays as she flew in from Lahore late night on July 23.
Saff Championship is the first event for Pakistan women’s side in eight and a half years as the team last played at the tournament in 2014.
The event is also the first for the PFF NC after an almost 15-month FIFA suspension was lifted on June 30.
The SAFF Championship will begin in Kathmandu, Nepal on September 6 and time is running out for PFF NC to rebuild the national women’s side in 44 days.
Pakistan’s only Asian Football Federation certified coach Shahzad Anwar is also consulting on technical side as the preparations for the championship are in full swing.
Now the administrative and technical teams will head to Islamabad, where the trials will start on July 26 and then move to Lahore on 28.
Meanwhile, the PFF NC on Monday night issued a press release to announce the names of 61 probables who were shortlisted for the trials based on their performance in the National Championships in 2021 and prior to that. The committee has also sent out emails to all the existing women’s clubs in Pakistan to send their top players to the trials.
Jamshaid terms the trials as “the middle ground” since they are not completely open to all, but also not entirely closed for new entrants.
“We have been looking for the best players on the recommendation of the coaches to show up for the trials, but now we need to postpone it and come back to Karachi later. The idea is that all the women football clubs can send the players from all over the country and they can come to their nearest city for it. We already had the list of players from the selection committee that were in place at the 2021 and 2019 women’s championships, but we can safely say that we are going for the middle path here, a lot of girls have been out of training, some may have quit while others may have got married, some may play, some may not, so the list is still evolving,” she explained.
But she emphasised that the clubs should send players who are at least 17 years of age.
A new beginning for women’s national team
Anwar, on the other hand, feels that time is of the essence and the process of making a strong Pakistan women’s team will go beyond the Saff Championship 2022.
“Firstly, there has not been any football for eight years for women’s team, so that is one reality and a challenge,” he said.
In his expert opinion, “We’ll need four years to make a strong team practically. We’ll need to develop our players, only the selection process takes a year.”
Anwar has been working diligently with youth players and had proven instrumental in getting local players to Brazil, where he has coached the league clubs.
“We’ll need to see how the girls are playing now and how much technical development is required, so we’ll start with that. For now with Saff Championship we’ll start this process, we’ll have a pool of 30 players instead of 23 and even then we’ll get a clearer picture once these players get the exposure. This process will continue even after the championship, we’ll need to do everything to make a strong team to represent the country,” reflected Anwar.
“There will be continuation to this process,” he emphasised.
Anwar added that there can be overseas players in the list as well.
However, the PFF must ensure and have a balance when it comes to equity and justice for the players born and bred in Pakistan.
They have truly faced oppression in terms of lack of facilities and they were forced to stop playing because of the PFF’s controversial status due to power struggle among the officials that led to two bans from FIFA in five years. FIFA had banned Pakistan for third-party interference.
Pakistan is the second worst country in the world for women to live in and playing any sport is an uphill battle for them, let alone pursue a career. While many girls defied the norm to reclaim their right to play and follow their passion for the beautiful game, many from overseas may not understand the reality of their counterparts in Pakistan.