Challenges plague Pakistan women’s football [Express Tribune]

Challenges plague Pakistan women’s football [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

KARACHI: Supporting the Pakistan national women’s team becomes difficult without harboring resentment towards the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) Normalization Committee (NC), which seems determined to mock the sport and the players.

Originally scheduled to play a friendly match on July 15 as part of a hastily arranged tour, the women’s team now departed for Singapore on July 16, with the match taking place on July 18. Last month, the NC initiated a training camp for the women’s team and announced the list of potential squad members on June 17, hoping to secure a friendly fixture.

Initially, there were reports of a match against Kyrgyzstan, then the Maldives, but at the last moment, the host country changed to Singapore. Following their participation in the first-ever Asian Olympic Qualifying round in April, where they finished third in Group E after defeating Tajikistan 1-0 at Hisor Stadium, the players regrouped.

However, their journey was marred by defeats against the FIFA Women’s World Cup-playing side, the Philippines (4-0), and Hong Kong (2-0), before finally clinching a victory. Unfortunately, the long-standing issues of nepotism and lack of transparency persist within the Pakistan women’s camp.

The problems begin with the selection of players for the camp, as the PFF NC has not conducted any trials or domestic tournaments for women this year, making it difficult to gauge the potential of the existing talent pool in the country.

While high-performing athletes were observed during the National Games, where more experienced players excelled, they were not welcomed back to the national camp by Head Coach Adeel Rizki, who was present in Quetta to make the selections.

The surprises continued with the announcement of the camp, as vice-captain Malika-e-Noor was missing from the list, despite her smooth captaincy during the Olympic Qualifiers.

She was replaced by Kayla Siddique, who is based in the United States.

Moreover, the PFF NC replaced the team’s manager with Eman Ahmed, an experienced figure from Rizki’s own Karachi City FC.

On the other hand, the national team appears to be Captain Maria Khan’s personal project. The PFF NC announced the appointment of Iraqi Lebanese assistant coach Lyne Ismail on June 26 via social media.

Rizki has previously faced accusations of mistreatment and verbal abuse from several players who participated in the South Asian Football Federation Championship last year. These players were subsequently removed from future assignments for speaking out against the mistreatment in a letter addressed to PFF NC Chief Haroon Malik.

Blatant favoritism and preference for diaspora players have been evident, while no efforts have been made to establish pathways for local footballers who consistently participate in the sport.

After extensive investigation and confirmation from multiple sources, The Express Tribune discovered that Ismail was appointed by Rizki and Maria without undergoing any interviews or selection procedures.

It was revealed that Ismail and Maria had played together at the same club in the UAE. Similar circumstances surround Ahmed’s inclusion, as she was seen in pictures posted by the PFF NC.

Furthermore, it was revealed that even the PFF NC’s Human Resources department was unaware of Ismail’s appointment, and Eman was hired as the manager without undergoing any interviews or standard hiring procedures.

The Express Tribune reached out to the PFF NC for clarification, but received no response.

Meanwhile, there has been a tumultuous saga regarding the issuance of the NOC (No Objection Certificate) required for all national teams to officially represent Pakistan in international fixtures.

The PFF NC raised concerns when the government denied them the NOC to participate in Singapore, despite submitting the required documents late. Although the NOC was eventually granted, the PFF NC once again failed to handle the team affairs professionally, leading to the discovery that the visas for the team were not issued.

As a result, the two planned friendly matches have been reduced to just one.

Despite the questionable credentials of the national women’s footballers and the sport itself, they deserve better treatment than being caught in the middle, enduring the agony of official matters just to compete in a single match.

Published in Express Tribune, 16 July 2023