The whole nation held its breath as thirty point six seconds later; the surface of the water broke, and out emerged a figure, gasping for air. It was the summer of 2004, and the Olympics were being held in Athens, and Pakistan had its fingers crossed. The figure that had broken the water surface was that of Rubab Raza, the first female swimmer to represent Pakistan in Olympic history, and that in itself was a matter of the utmost pride. We did not score a medal in that event, but Rubab managed to score the 5th position in the 50 meter freestyle, and that was a big achievement for any thirteen year old girl.
Four and a half years later, although we sent another swimmer for the Beijing Olympics, the state of women’s sports in Pakistan is in shambles, and according to Rubab Raza, it has been so for many years now. Although she faces unmatched talent, she has had to face continuous oppression for the last twelve years. We have been born with a mindset and a family setting that dictates to us that a woman’s place is in her home, taking care of her husband and children, and not in a field, wielding a hockey stick or a bat. The fact that women break out of such cliché and commonplace roles makes them unacceptable in our society.
We boast of a women’s team of almost every sport; from table tennis and swimming, to cricket and Taekwando, and are even in the process of forming a women’s blind cricket team. With such achievements, we try to portray the image of open-minded people with enough resources to actually run such activities; but in truth, the authorities do not have the patience or facilities to actually promote any women’s team and these achievements are actually hollow.
In General Zia’s era, a woman was limited to her house, and barely possessed any rights; Pakistan was pushed into the dark ages. Twenty years later, we are still in those very same dark ages, as those same policies and that very mindset have left its mark. Only last year, in the highly prestigious Lahore Marathon, women participating in it were lathi charged by radical clerics. Rubab had a similar experience too, when she was stopped from swimming in a posh club, because a man refused to swim at the same time as her; although Rubab had no other option as she had a male coach, and was actually only eleven years old.
Women sports are looked down upon in general, in our society, and that is truly as very sad predicament, because in reality, the progress of sports in a country is a reflection of its political stability. There is a lack of resources and facilities, and there are no proper trainers and coaches, or none that actually agree to coach a women’s team. Above all, there is a serious lack of professionalism.
The sports ministry needs to pull up its socks, and introduce better policies, and actually plough some cash into these teams and help rejuvenate and alleviate female sports. The officials also need to realize the importance of sports and give it some time and consideration. Our athletes, sportsmen and sportswomen represent our country, so it is high time that their importance should be our top priority.