May 3, 2022
By Munizae Jahangir
Although Pakistani footballer Karishma Ali is spending this Eid in Islamabad, she certainly misses the comfort and closeness of Eid celebrations in her hometown of Chitral. In a tete-a-tete with Munizae Jahangir, Ali reveals how her struggles were far from being over once she finally became an athlete.
As a girl growing up in a deeply patriarchal society and in a country where investment in sports (save cricket, of course) is unheard of, Ali had plenty of hurdles to clear before she could wedge her foot in at the door for football stardom, and then some.
She recalls how the vitriol against her and her family, especially her parents, for allowing her to play football was the reason behind many sleepless nights post national fame.
“Our society is such that even parents are put to shame. They hear things like “What are you making your daughters do?” and that they’re not good parents,” Ali, who was included in Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List in 2019, mentions how her family was unfairly targeted for her achievements. “This hurt me far more than all the personal attacks I received.”
Even the aspiring young girls enrolled in her Chitral Women’s Sports Club, which started out as a training camp in 2016 before flourishing into a fully functioning center in 2018, were not spared.
“They would target and say terrible things about all the girls at the club…Those comments I could never ignore.”
All this undue backlash for following her passion and helping others like her live out their dream does indeed wear her out. But with time and unwavering commitment to the sport and the cause, she’s learned to roll with the punches.
“It took me a while to accept this and admit that I used to cry myself to sleep. I used to hide it at first because I felt it was embarrassing [to feel that way],” she says. “But when you go out there with a mission to change things, regardless how tough things get, you have to fight through it all and make it.”
Ali cannot give up – not now, not ever. In a developing world, and in a country where nearly half the population comprises women, there is a need to bring them to the forefront rather than push them further and further back.
“Our society bars women from so many things. If we don’t include our women and our girls in more things, we cannot develop as a nation.”
The need for inclusion is that much more imperative because of how little importance the State and society gives women’s football. Its a topic for which Ali uses the term “unfortunate” without any hesitation.
“Women emerge from one challenge by struggling against society to finally play at the nationals, thinking the way has finally opened up for them. But reality’s the exact opposite!” she says, adding that female athletes stumble into an even deeper pitfall than they can climb out of. “Our sports federations are doing nothing, our grounds are closed, training camps aren’t being held, there are no scholarships…”
Once female athletes make it to the nationals, they must also compete on the global level against international teams far better equipped and imbued with a wider array of skills. The key difference is investment.
“We are brimming with talent. We are one of the biggest populations in the world, we have so many youths full of passion for sports. But if the country does not polish or support these young athletes, then all this talent will go to waste. And that’s how it has been for ages now.”