Karachi: India will face Maldives in their opening match of the South Asian Women's Football Championship, which got underway in Islamabad today amidst concerns of a backlash from extremists and militants owing to the security situation in the country.
Hosts Pakistan put up a fighting show against Sri Lanka in their opening game but lost 1-2 but more importantly for the first time the Pakistani girls were allowed to wear traditional baggy T-shirts and shorts with long socks, covering their legs to the knees.
Ever since the first national women's football event was held in Pakistan, the players have had to follow a strict dress code of wearing loose T-shirts and long baggy pants instead of shorts.
"A total of eight teams -- India, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- are taking part in the completion which is a big boost for women's football and sports in the country," the secretary of the Pakistan Football Federation said.
Ahmed Yar Lodhi said the organisation of the SAF championship for women was a big step forward for Pakistan football as due to the security situation in Pakistan it took a lot of convincing to get the teams to come and play in Islamabad. Just few days back he admitted the holding of the event fell into doldrums when a suicide bomber killed nearly 60 people at the Wagah Border with India.
"But we are grateful to the support extended by all the participating countries and our government for making this event possible," he said. Women's sports in Pakistan until now has not been taken seriously due to the conservative nature of Pakistani society which generally frowns upon girls in any sports.
But after former military dictator and ruler, Pervez Musharraf in his tenure from 1999 to 2008 encouraged women's sports the number of women taking part in different sports has grown dramatically.
"Today there is an increasing number of girls playing cricket while many are also attracted to football now," said Pakistan captain, Hajira Khan who herself belongs to the conservative Baluchistan province.
"Most of the girls in the team are here because of strong support from their families. Girls in our society can't venture into sports unless they are encouraged and pushed by their families," she said.
Hajira earlier this year also became the first Pakistani women football player to feature in a foreign league in Maldvies as a professional. "Few others girls have also got exposure so our football standards are improving and today we put up a good fight against Sri Lanka who are much more experienced than us," she said.
For good note Hajira also scored Pakistan's lone goal in the 89th minute. To ensure the tournament is held without any incidents there is round the clock security around the Jinnah complex where the event is being held and the participating players and officials have also been housed in the complex. Monika Staab a FIFA consultant for women's football said the girls were enjoying themselves in the secure environment and and it was good to see the families and friends of the Pakistani players turn up to encourage them.
The SAF championship will conclude on November 20.