By Natasha Raheel – Express Tribune
ISLAMABAD: Seventeen-year-old Joyann Geraldine Thomas – originally a part of Balochistan United (BU) Women’s Football Club – is the first Christian player to represent Pakistan at the ongoing South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women’s Championship in Islamabad.
The Karachi-based player is part of a ‘new wave’ of female footballers whom national coach Tariq Lutfi recruited for the regional event.
“It’s something huge,” Joyann told The Express Tribune. “I’m glad and fortunate that I’m here in the national team, playing for my country. It’s heartening that discrimination against minority players is a thing of the past. No one in my team ever let me feel like an outsider, we’re all a single unit.”
Other than the camaraderie among the players, her biggest inspiration is her own mother, Joyce Christina, who was a gold medallist in the 1,500m event. However, her mother quit sports due to discrimination.
“It’s certainly an inspiration,” said Joyann, who was practising with the rest of the Pakistan squad practiced yesterday at the Jinnah Stadium for their crucial fixture against Nepal tomorrow.
“I still remember her [my mother’s] gold medal. She left sports because of the recurring questions over a Christian athlete representing Pakistan when there were plenty of Muslim athletes waiting for a chance to be a part of the national side. But this is a different era.”
Meanwhile, coach Lutfi said it’s time to bring fresh players. “When I first saw Joyann play, I told her that she will play for Pakistan. It’s time to give equal opportunity,” said Lutfi.
Losing their first match to Sri Lanka 2-1 after a close fight was a less than auspicious start, but Lutfi insisted that the young team needs to be given all possible chances.
On the other hand, Pakistan Football Federation Women Wing Chairperson Rubina Irfan said the aim of hosting the tournament is to send out a soft image of Pakistan.
“As hosts, it’s our responsibility to ensure a safe and positive environment for the visiting teams,” said Rubina. “We need to be confident in what we’re doing so that we project a favourable image to the rest of the world about our ability to organise any event successfully.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2014.