by Natasha Raheel
KARACHI: Like a ray of light pierces through the cloud, through the darkness and shines on the mountain top, football has done the same for the girls of Gilgit Baltistan and especially Hunza.
“Three to four of our girls have gotten into the university this year because of football,” gushes Gilgit-Baltistan Football League (GBFL) co-founder Karishma Inayat and her sister shares the same sentiment.
Karishma, 23, has been a player herself. She has seen the nitty-gritty of how the system, which is almost always rigged against women and mostly for sports people in Pakistan, never functions.
For the next edition of GBFL, her first and foremost concern is to find a proper ground. “We don’t have a proper football ground in Gilgit-Baltistan, where we can hold a proper match,” Karishma, a former Diya FC player told The Express Tribune. “Asking for safe playing fields is the first challenge that we face each year, each time.”
In fact, Karishma, when asked what she sees as the biggest strength in the players of her community, points with a completely genuine expression to her players. “I just want to say resilience, and even courage. It takes courage that they don’t fear playing on a ground which can hurt them bad, which can leave them injured. It usually does that but they still play.
“My biggest tribute for why we want to make things better goes to the players and these girls,” said Karishma.
She further adds that the community in GB is fairly open-minded for girls to play sports and since she and Sumaira began the work in 2016-17, there have even been other clubs who have been working regularly, and the momentum has been rolling steadily compared to the past.
The GBFL this year will be featuring eight teams again and Karishma believes that more villages can be covered with each edition moving forward.
“There will be eight teams this year too like the last time, but we do have teams from different villages. For now, we can only afford eight teams because as we are going forward, we want more exposure for the girls, and so far more villages from upper Hunza are covered.
“The target is eight teams again, but from more villages, covering at least 12 to 13 of them from upper Hunza,” said Karishma, who also represent Pakistan at the 2016 Jubilee Games.
The challenges are enormous but so is the dedication of the GBFL as a concept and the determination of the Shimshal Sisters as Karishma and Sumaira are popularly called.
Karishma added that the biggest roadblock after getting a proper ground and pitch is the sponsors that are few and scattered.
“We would want to have more teams too but the fact is at the end of the day we need more sponsors. We are very thankful for the ones we have right now, everything happens because of them, but we need sponsorships properly for good things to happen to the girl athletes. But when we were starting out we never thought we would make it this far even.
“There is still lot to be achieved and done,” said Karishma, as she focused briefly on the fact that now convincing the families of the girls is not that difficult as she and Sumaira try to cover the expenses of the travel for the league, the accommodation, the food, kits and footballs through the event.
The youngster added that the fruit of labour came in the shape of three to four of the players from Hunza getting into university outside of Hunza through football.
However, Covid-19 pandemic has not been kind to the GBFL and the players up in the north either.
“Of course because of Covid-19 we couldn’t hold the league last year. It affected us psychologically too, because football is also a form of escape for the young girls, a way to feel better for at least five days and play, but because of Covid-19a lot of companies have cut short on their budget too. So there is the financial aspect where the sponsorship money also took the cut, and it slowed things down,” said Karishma, admitting that player welfare has been a paramount objective.
Making the GBFL work costs more than meets the eye, because mostly there can be a lot of questions if women are taking initiatives. For them, justifying their motives can be frustrating at times and there is no legal framework or support either as in April the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) also got banned from Fifa, entailing doubts if football can be fruitful and a satisfying profession for the players involved.
“I just want to look at the rays of hope at the end of it all. I feel a lot of people can be frustrated with how there are so many obstacles with Pakistani football and the system, but I have seen that every effort bears good results on the kids who play. There is hope in that and I just want to stay motivated. Also I want to say to the people that they shouldn’t criticise the efforts because all good things happen with time, we just don’t have to stop the work. Continuing the efforts is the key,” concluded Karishma, as she will be travelling to Hunza from Lahore for the GBFL to take place this year.