CHAKWAL: Fakhar Iqbal, 56, is an uneducated village woman. But whenever she happens to visit Chakwal city for shopping, she returns with a football, a must item on her purchase list. Back at her small home in Sadwal, a tranquil village located some eight kilmeters away from Chakwal city, she has three young daughters, who are crazy and passionate lovers of football, waiting for her.
Although Fakhar, like her most coevals in the village has never been to school, the thing which distinguishes her among the rest of the women of Sadwal is the quiet rebellion which she has been waging against the prevalent social taboos for the last many years.
Her daughter Farzana Batool was in her 3rd grade at village school when she developed her interest in athletics. Fakhar’s husband Haji Lehrasub Khan, who was an employee of Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDCL), always backed the passion of his daughter. During 5th grade Farzana participated in the annual games held under Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education Rawalpindi where she competed in a race.
But the year of 2005 shook Farzana and her entire family when her father died of cardiac arrest. From there on, an uphill struggle ensued for Fakhar. She not only had to bring up her five daughters and a son but also had to bear the taunts and jibes hurled at her by her close relatives and other villagers as she resolved to fulfil Farzana’s dream of becoming a footballer.
“With the death of my husband the life turned upside down for us,” recalls Fakhar with moist eyes while speaking to Dawn in an exclusive interview here. “There were hosts of challenges for me. To get the succession certificate from a court, to bring up my children and above all to support Farzana’s passion of becoming a footballer in face of fierce opposition and taunts from my male relatives and the villagers. It was indeed an ordeal for me.”
Although Farzana was passionate about football and her mother was there to support her, in a district like Chakwal there was neither a football club for women nor women were encouraged to take up in a game that required the players to wear shorts.
In 2007, Fakhar decided to take Farzana to the Young Rising Stars (YRS) Club, the first ever football club for women in Rawalpindi/Islamabad which was established in the same year by two dedicated supporters of the game — Ghiasuddin Baloch , a former official of World Health Organisation, and his friend Shahid Ahmed Khan who was a former civil servant of Punjab Government.
“There was a fee of Rs 5000 for joining the club and I was drawing Rs 1800 as pension of my late husband,” says Fakhar. “But I borrowed money and deposited the fee. Thus my daughter at the tender age of thirteen joined the YRS club.”
But there were further hardships that she had to face. Keen to be with her daughter during the early days at the club, Fakhar would take Farzana to Rawalpindi three days in a week on a public service vehicle for training. “The rest of the four days of the week I accompanied my daughter to a ground in Chakwal city on a rickshaw for training where passersbys would often sneer at Farzana. But we ignored the jibes and gazes,” she said.
Soon Farzana emerged as a star of her club. From 2007 to 2014 she played all major domestic matches in the football season. To her credit, she also continued to pursue her studies. In 2014, her first big moment arrived, or so she thought. She was selected to represent Pakistan’s national women’s football team in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship but just the night before the tournament was to begin, she was dropped for reasons best known to the high-ups of Pakistan Football Federation.
Dejected by the PFF snub, Farzana approached a football club in Oman in 2014 and was immediately signed on.
A natural athlete, Farzana has since made her mark as an all-round sportsperson of exceptional quality and determination. Besides making a name in football, she competed in basketball at the National Games in 2015-16 where her team clinched a silver medal. She would also do well at athletics, archery, shooting and chess whenever she was a contest came her way.
In 2017 Farzana hardwork has begun to pay off as her career has started to look up. She displayed superb football skills at the Australian Football League (AFL) while playing for Pakistani team there and won the ‘Most Courageous Player’ Award.
Now studying at the University of Sargodha, where she is currently pursuing her MPhil in social work, the twenty-three-year-old Farzana continue to represent her varsity and the Higher Education Commission in the domestic football matches. But more importantly, hwer focus as a footballer remains unflinching. Recently, she has applied for a No Objection Certificate from her Omani Club since she is all set to join Shaheen Sporting and Social Club at Melbourne which was founded by the Pakistani community in Australia.
“Farzana has been one of the stars of AFL International Cup 2017,” says Dr. Syed Ariz the Communications Manager of the club. “The determination and courage shown by her has been phenomenal. Her skills and determination has won her Shaheens IC17 Most Courageous Player Award.’
Until the time she leaves for Australia, she is preparing hard for the upcoming National Games, set to be held in Quetta later this year.
Needless, to say, she has been an inspiration for her younger siblings, Majida Batool and Nazia Batool who, too, are beginning to make their mark in sports. Majida, 19, who recently secured her admission at the prestigious King Edward Medical University, is a member of a football club in Islamabad where she is getting her training and she is also an athlete of the Islamabad team.
The youngest, Nazia Batool at 17 is a student of Intermediate at Government Degree College for Women Chakwal and has been competing as an athlete for the high-profile Wapda Team for the last two years. Like her big sister Farzana, Nazia would also betaking take part in the upcoming National Games as an athlete.
“Ten years ago all my relatives and villagers had turned against me as they were not ready to accept me as a footballer who would wear shorts and play the game in open fields, says Farzana while speaking to Dawn. “Even my younger brother would sometime get bothered by me taking up sports. But now everyone in the village appreciates me,” says Farzana triumphantly.
“My younger sisters are not facing the problems that I faced because I am here for them,” she said. “But had it not been for my parent, specially my mother, I would never had made it this far.”
She also gives a lot of credit in her success to her coach the head coach at YRS Shahid Ahmed Khan, another one of her coaches Gohar Habib Nangiana, and cricketer Awais Zia who also hails from Chakwal.
“I established a football club in Chakwal a couple of years ago. More than eighteen girls joined it but later they all left because their parents were not ready to allow their daughters to go to other cities for playing matches,” says Farzana who is all set to fly off to Melbourne in December.
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2017
Courtesy : DAWN