No boxing gear, small training space and little funding can discourage any aspiring athlete but not these young girls from Karachi who dream of representing Pakistan on the global stage and bringing home an Olympics medal.
One of them is Warda Rafi – an 11-year-old boxing student who trains with her father. She was one of the winners of the recent K-Electric (KE) Women’s Boxing tournament held at the National Coaching Centre (NCC) in Gulshan-e-Iqbal. Despite the many limitations women have as an athlete in Pakistan, Rafi says she is up for the challenge to represent the country at international platforms.
“Even though we are forced to train with limited resources, I think we should follow the footsteps of Naseem Hameed – the track and field athlete from Karachi – who beat the odds to become the fastest woman in South Asia,” Rafi stresses.
‘Women’s boxing has taken strong roots’
However, the young boxer did express her disappointment over the lack of interest and support for women athletes. “There are hardly any events in Pakistan where women, especially young girls, can participate. We get fewer chances of showcasing [our talent] though we want more [of such opportunities],” Rafi states.
Rafi and the other 19 boxers who took part in the KE event were trained by Ali Buksh – the official coach of the national boxing team. Though not too optimistic about the men’s team, Buksh has high expectations for the young girls. “I see a unique spark when I train them. They have the determination to do great things and if trained properly for coming years, Olympics may not be a far-fetched idea for them,” Buksh says with confidence.
Glory at Olympics is a motivation shared by many athletes in Pakistan and across the globe. Fifteen years old Fatima Ali, under training at the Pak Shaheen Club in Lyari, has the same dream.
“I took up boxing to learn basic self-defence in the light of the deteriorating security situation of the city and my neighbourhood in particular. But later on, as I improved in trading punches, I decided to carry on with it. Now I think I should pursue a career in boxing. Though my parents won’t permit it, my future performance would be enough to persuade them,” Ali hopes.
Female boxing kicks off on small scale
But Ali, like her fellow athletes, is concerned about the many obstacles that lay on the path to a professional career. “Fighters around the world follow an exclusive diet plan consisting of shakes, fruits, protein and vegetables but here we have the regular meals. Also, we train with worn out gloves, rusted or obsolete equipment and in small spaces. Realistically speaking, we cannot aim for Olympics until these issues are taken care of,” Ali stresses.
Ali’s father Arshad Ali does not share the same passion for boxing as his daughter. “I have allowed her to carry on with boxing only on the condition that she will not neglect her studies. When there is no future in boxing for Pakistani men, how can we expect it to be different for our girls?” he asks.
The father says the government appears to only care about cricket while others sports such as boxing are neglected. “The girls should be careful not to skip their studies in favour of boxing as it might not pay off,” he warns.
“Media has done a fine job by bringing the female athletes into the limelight but much remains to be done on the government’s part in order to solve their issues and help them move beyond the society’s stereotypes,” he adds.
Mohammad Alam, an athlete and boxing coach at NCC, agrees support is needed from the government and makes an appeal for better funding and facilities for women athletes.
Karachi’s ladies get a chance to box
“Even the AstroTurf at the centre has expired and is not suitable for running and jogging activities. If the need arises for advanced training of women boxers, they will need better facilities to attain their optimum level. The government must realise this and build infrastructure specific to women so they can be trained without any worries,” he says.
While the first responsibility is of the government, Aamir Bilal – CEO of non-governmental organisation Sports Development Foundation (SDF) – believes the solution lies in private partnerships. “Any expectation from the government will be futile; with the way things are, I think our government may never be able to take significant steps to truly encourage women athletes. What can bear results are the combined efforts of private social development organizations,” he states.
On providing the right environment for girls to practise sports, Bilal says Pakistan must work on creating safe playing areas for women – a concept prevalent in the developed countries – where they can perform in peace and without feeling vulnerable.
courtesy : express tribune