by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Licked, call it crucified, pulverized, or maybe it is just the fault in the format, when it comes to the National Women’s Football Championship, the kind of flaw that is inherent, the sort that can benefit the stronger teams in every way, only for the weaker sides to get ‘lessons’ and learning through devastating defeats that can look like 15-0 for two matches, and then two teams scoring eight goals each.
It is the matter of haves and have-nots, by the book of money and resources, facilities, skill levels, exposure and general stability in the environments.
As the defending champions Army registered their second easy win in Group C after trouncing Young Rising Stars Layyah 15-0 with star player Hajra Khan scoring the hat-trick, Swaiba Sarfaraz scoring another three, Rameen and Aliza Sabir scored two each whereas Khadija Kazmi, Alina, Mishal Bhatti, Eshal and Rishail added a goal apiece into the score-line at the KPT stadium.
“We have come a long way as far as the national championship is concerned, but we have a long way to go,” three-time Guinness World record holder and Pakistan international Hajra told The Express Tribune after the first match that they had played against Jafa Academy and had scored three goals, that too in the first half.
The opening matches too saw the surge of goals from stronger sides that left score-lines looking astonishing with 19-0, 16-0 and so on.
“We tried to look more on our own weaknesses than just scoring more goals at that point, that is what I told the players before the match began, that we don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” Hajra added.
Meanwhile, Army are playing without their beloved captain and defender Malika-e-Noor. The outfit are on their hat-trick run, having two championship titles to their name before.
“We are trying not to miss her,” said Hajra. “We’ll make her proud, she is with us as we play each time.”
Noor has been off the pitch after giving birth to her second child and she is hoping to come back like she did before after the recovery period, but is missing the championship.
Hajra appreciated the individual prizes that the championship is offering for the best player in every position. “Individual awards are good, that will motivate players to be at the top of their game, but we still need to know who the selection committee is. I try to look for the selectors who will be deciding the worthy players of these awards,” said Hajra.
Hajra’s way of thinking may match the others, however, the stronger sides will be at a loss if they hold back, when others will go on to be ruthless on the smaller sides. And competitive sport does not thrive on mercy, but what is more fascinating to see is the mindset that encourages and even accepts this ‘culling’ of sorts where the groups and invariably albeit unintentionally rigged, because the top two sides will progress to the next round, and the top two sides will be obvious, whereas the weaker sides have the development stage to play now.
In any sport, individual ones included, the learning and mutual benefit only happens when the teams and players are of almost equal footing, that each can challenge the other, and improve.
The development stage is a good step but more akin to a lego piece in a structure that was at first placed behind the main building and now placed in the front, that is more or less like having qualifying stage only afterwards.
That itself can give the losing teams a way to look forward to a couple more matches, but ultimately what Pakistan women need in football is a league, and although the championship is a good event, it is soul-crushing for spectators and underdog favouring crowd as well as the teams at the receiving end of the flurry of goals. The defeats that are seen are physically painful, with stunning contrast in the skill levels, and the smaller teams biting the bullet and being happy with just participation. They deserve a league, more matches and more field time to gain confidence.
It is unfair when statements that say that the weaker sides may learn from losing with heavy scores from the stronger sides is a view of people who may not be in those losing teams, because ultimately that is a negative reinforcement, the sort that is unhealthy. It would do two things to the players, one they would quit, and second if they keep playing they will get comfortable eventually with defeats like 15-0, 19-0 and likewise.
“After that first day, we didn’t want to talk about football,” said one of the officials who have been on the receiving end of the thrashing. “But we came all the way to just play, that is a win for us.”
The top teams in the groups so far have amassed 128 goals in four days, while just counting the weaker sides in the groups they have scored only 19 if we include Jafa Academy as one of the stronger sides among the underdogs.
Out of the 19 teams featured in four groups at the championship, many are debutants playing the big national tournament for the first time, and that alone for them is an achievement.
However, participation should not come at the expense of self-confidence or self-respect, and that is an uphill task for the Pakistan Football federation (PFF), not just the Normalisation Committee, that is organising the championship at this time, but it had been for the managements before, and also for the managements that would come after.
The championship at hand should go on, and will see more women competing, and that is a positive to take away from it so far.
But the solution is a league, in fact a four-tiered, that can give enough space and time for the women’s football to grow and improve. It is after all about holding up the space because till now the players, even the best and the top ones, only get to play one tournament in the whole year and that in itself is extremely restrictive and bad on paper compared to men’s football.
The other Group C match saw Jafa Soccer Academy batter FC Karachi 8-1 with five goals from Sara, whereas Fatima, Marwa and Kiran Fatima were instrumental for a goal each for the winners. The lonesome goal for FC Karachi came from Zoha Adnan at the KMC Stadium.
Diya FC made no mistakes in bringing down MUK FC 15-0 in the Group D fixture, having former U15 Pakistan players Shumaila Gulab Hussain and Marium Zehri scoring four goals apiece, Rabia Javaid with a hat-trick, Zunaira Shah added a brace whereas Aliya Jhalka and Ameerah contributed one goal each at KPT Stadium.
In the second match of the group, Highlanders WFC defeated Mohsen Gillani WFC 8-0 at the KMC Stadium. Nizalia scored five goals, Asmara Habib brought in two, and Fariha kicked in one goal for her team.