by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: If perseverance had a voice, it might have sounded like that of Hajra Khan’s, as she sets her eyes to be a part of the world record match for the second time.
While it only remains a dream for Pakistani women to be playing the Fifa World Cup one day, Hajra understands that time is running out, and for Pakistani women footballers the battle has only been becoming harder, since it was the last time in 2014 that the national team played an international tournament.
The captain of the team, as Hajra has been, wants things to change. She wants the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) to look at the sport seriously, and more importantly see women’s football as an equal to men’s, and not just another formality, where there is only one season for women and that too a national football championship that does not last for more than a week.
The PFF only started their national U16 and U19 championships last year, while Pakistan women’s national team had made their international debut in 2010. The progress has been next to nothing, and lack of professionalism within PFF had only left the players feeling stagnated, especially the women’s game that has never been viewed or treated as equal to men’s game.
Hajra will be a part of Jordan Quest, the team that she played with last year for the Equal Playing Field initiative, where the World Record Lowest Altitude Football Match was played at the Dead Sea in Jordan.
She represented Pakistan among players from more than 25 countries and also scored a goal at the match.
But the time in between the record match last year and now has been filled with struggle, as the 25-year-old recuperated from a knee injury, while making sure that her mental health stays in good shape as she has been an advocate of the cause among the athletes while overcoming depression herself.
“I have been training for this match on my own here,” Hajra told The Express Tribune. “It is difficult to be doing this in Pakistan as there are no sports medicine experts and then the support is not there from the federation either. I will be a part of the match and my academy team, Fortis Academy, will also be there. I’ll be playing with Jordan Quest this time too.”
This time, the EPF festival is in Lyon alongside the Fifa Women’s World Cup 2019, and the match would begin from June 27 till June 1.
But the inactivity for women footballers in Pakistan has been more about the lives of the players, where they have to fight for each and every opportunity they can get to even just play.
With this endeavour Hajra wants to make sure that even in the most difficult of situations there comes the breakthrough and one needs to continue with the passion, despite the odd from within and out.
“It is an absolute honour for me for to represent Pakistan for my second world record attempt,” said Hajra. “I have always aimed to use my passion to inspire others. I have always wanted to turn my passion into an example to encourage those around me to pursue their goals and what makes me happiest is that I will not be the only Pakistani playing the longest football match, there is plenty of national representation at an event with 50+ nationalities.”
Hajra also had to face the brunt of the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) for speaking her mind about apathy for women’s game. The PFF have been caught up in their controversy over elections and has now two factions, one supported by Fifa and the other fresh body which was elected after the election on Supreme Court’s order in December.
However, the officials and their political strategies take centre stage when it comes to PFF matters, and it is the players that have suffered since 2015, when initially the controversy broke.
But Hajra believes footballers deserve more from the PFF, and the women’s game can make the country proud, whether the people wanting the country can acknowledge it or not.
“I hope we are able to maintain the respect, the dignity and the standard I have managed to set in the international football arena without any support from the Pakistan Football Federation. Not being recognized and acknowledged by your own federation is rather demotivating but my passion to represent Pakistan still ignites. The ultimate dream was to take Pakistan to the Fifa World Cup ¬– the time has come to raise the flag higher,” she concluded.