by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: The Pakistan women’s football team will make history as they play their Olympic Qualifying tournament for the first time, despite being mired with injuries.
The team will begin their campaign in Group E of the Asian Qualifying tournament against the world number 49 team Philippines on Wednesday in the western city of Tajikistan.
The team will play three matches, the second being with Hong Kong and the last one with the hosts, who are the second-weakest team in terms of rankings above Pakistan.
The Pakistan women’s team preparations have been less than ideal due to a number of injuries.
The Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) NC has been extremely secretive about the women’s team’s updates and statuses till a week ago.
The girls were made to travel to the UAE from Multan, while there had been at least four players who were unable to travel with them due to visa rejection.
The team played three matches on the tour, where they lost two: first against Abu Dhabi Country Club Football Club 2-1 in a 60-minute match, while the other was with the UAE U20 team 2-1.
Their first match was just with a local club where expats usually play.
From the videos and pictures posted by the UAE federation, it looked like even captain Maria Khan was not in the frame, meanwhile, the PFF NC only managed to post the behind-the-scenes videos.
The NC had not announced the squad in a timely fashion as well.
Coach Adeel Rizki, who is not qualified to train a national side since he has a UEFA License B certificate, chose to call up players who are either from the diaspora or from his club. He took the surprising decision of not even holding trials before the historic appearance that the Pakistani women will make.
Last month when The Express Tribune inquired about the injuries, the NC denied any, while on April 2 their social media page confirmed that Britain-based Nadia Khan, who scored four goals for Pakistan in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, will miss the qualifiers due to the anterior cruciate ligament injury.
The PFF NC was not available to comment on how whether she picked up the injury during the training in the camp or was she carrying it from before.
This will be the second tournament that she will miss for Pakistan. Earlier, the Saudi Arabian Football Federation denied her participation in the inaugural Four Nations Cup, where Pakistan finished second among the minnows Comoros and Mauritius also participating.
Nadia, like two other players that the PFF NC sent for the tournament, did not have her Pakistani passport which is required for a player to have to confirm their representation for the country that they are playing for.
The Express Triune has also learned that there are more injured players on the team now, making the line-up announced on April 1 that much more intriguing.
The four players who had been left behind in Pakistan were on the list of the players who have travelled to Dushanbe.
The girls do not have the training and the exposure from the tour either and there will be a gap. There is also a mysterious appearance of Isra Khan’s name in the final squad. The player never appeared in the trials for the national side or the camp before. She is a US-based player.
Women footballers have suffered, with opportunities closing on them and careers going adrift due to the power struggle and institutional crisis in the PFF which led to two suspensions from FIFA, from 2015 onwards.
The women’s team played their last tournament in 2014 before making the international comeback in the 2022 Saff Championship, which too was played freshly after the second suspension was lifted by FIFA last year in June.
Rizki also omitted many experienced players from the squad and chose to go forward with the Olympic qualifiers with the team that competed in the Saudi tournament.
The heavy reliance on diaspora players seems to be a shortcut as the players within the country are never given a chance to show their mettle, and it is also an attempt to produce some results without having any proper football setup for women in the country.
The Filipinas have also come to the fore after a rebuilding of their side, and they do have diaspora players, but their football structure has been far ahead. They supported the development and assimilation of the players in the league first. They also have a rich history of football from the 1980’s, which was never experienced in Pakistan.
Several women footballers spoke up against Rizki’s abusive behaviour, nepotism, and toxic environment in the camp as well, and for registering their complaints they were ignored and left out of the squad since last year.
The culture laid out right now in the women’s game is still that of fear and control as none of the players in the cap for the Olympic qualifying round are allowed to share their whereabouts with anyone.
The isolation of the players given the context of several others speaking up against the mistreatment only leaves them vulnerable and easy to manipulate.
The PFF NC member Shahid Khokhar said he will be able to respond to the queries on Wednesday “if he is not travelling”, whereas the NC head Haroon Malik had earlier claimed that he is happy to see the men’s and women’s sides in action.