Members of the Pakistan women's Kabaddi team take part in a practice match. —Photo by AFP
Members of the Pakistan women's Kabaddi team pray before a practice match at the Punjab Stadium in Lahore. —Photo by AFP
Members of the Pakistan women's Kabaddi team exercise at a gym in Lahore. —Photo by AFP
LAHORE: Sixteen young Pakistani women will make history this weekend as they compete in the 2013 Kabaddi World Cup — the first time the country has ever fielded an international women's team in the sport.
The traditional tag-wrestling sport involves players trying to tag an opponent before making it back to their half of the field.
Kabaddi is hugely popular in the Punjab provinces of India and Pakistan, where it originates, and is played in countries around the world with South Asian populations.
It has traditionally been seen as a macho sport but now Pakistan is sending a women's team to the November 30-December 14, 2013 World Cup in India.
For 24-year-old Sayeda Fareeda Khanum, who comes from a conservative, religious family where she fought for years to be allowed to compete in sports, it is a dream come true.
“I have been sports crazy since childhood and was selected for national events in various sports many times, but I was never allowed by my family to attend a training camp outside college or university,” she said.
“But when I got selected for the Kabaddi team, I told my mother that I would play this sport at any cost and left home to join the camp in Lahore.”
Khanum, the team's best defender, spoke to AFP between sessions in a tough fitness workout at Lahore's Punjab stadium. “Getting the national colours was my childhood dream. I am going to India to fight a do-or-die battle for my nation and prove that Pakistani girls can do everything women do in other countries,” she said.
India and Pakistan, neighbours and ferocious sporting rivals, have met in two of the three men's World Cup finals held so far, with India prevailing both times.
The women are determined to succeed where their male counterparts have failed.
“We decided to participate in this team for the sake of Pakistan, and for the sake of true patriotism. And we have tried our level best, and by the will of God we will succeed,” Vice-captain Sumera Zahoor, who comes from a martial arts background, said.
Having decided to build the women's team, the authorities wrote to top sports organisations and educational institutions, collecting a group of girls coming from diverse sporting backgrounds.
Half already represent various other sports like athletics, weightlifting and racket games, while a few new players with the right attitude and ambitions have also earned a place in the team.
Training for the women in green, yellow and blue tracksuits begins with prayers and a recitation from the Quran.
After chants of “Long live Pakistan” and “God is great”, they begin physical training before moving on to wrestling techniques.
It has not been an easy task for the support staff to get the team together and direct their potential.
“All the girls come from different games, some are from athletics, some are weightlifters,” Aisha Qazi, the team's coach, said.
“These are individual players' games but Kabaddi is a team event, so there is a huge difference and it has taken me some time to teach them.”
Qazi, herself a first-class cricketer and international baseball player, said they were thrilled to be the first women's team to represent Pakistan in international Kabaddi.
Head coach Ghulam Abbas Butt said he was confident the women's team would live up to their promise.
“I hope the boys' team will win the World Cup this time and the girls would also not disappoint in their first appearance,” he said.
“I have done this training with my heart, and they followed it the same way. These were new girls and they have done whatever I asked them to do. That's why I know that they will play well,” he said.
The Pakistan women face England, Mexico and Denmark in their pool matches while arch rivals India play the United States, Kenya and New Zealand.