On a warm spring evening, as Fatima Hussain walks into Faisalabad’s Iqbal Stadium for practice, she reminisces about how everyone used to push her to be a cricketer. But she is not in the biggest cricket stadium of her city for cricket practice. She is there to work on her javelin throws.
Fatima is the top woman javelin thrower of Pakistan, a national champion, though she believes that she still has a long way to go to be considered a real champion. “I may be the best thrower among women in my country, but I’m still not where I want to see myself. There are very few women javelin throwers here, and I just happen to be better than most of them,” she humbly points out to Eos.
Undefeated at the national level since 2016, she represented Pakistan at the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games that were held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Asked why she wasn’t there in the Tokyo Olympics with Arshad Nadeem last year, she explains: “I’m not at that level. See, the Olympics standard is 60 metres, whereas my throws are still at 45 metres. I need to do regular training along with proper coaching while maintaining a good diet to improve my distance.”
Good diet? “Sure, a balanced intake of protein, carbohydrates, multivitamins, too,” she explains.
Arshad Nadeem’s heroics at the Tokyo Olympics created a new interest in the sport of javelin throwing in Pakistan. Meet Pakistan’s female javelin champion, Fatima Hussain, who hails from the same city and even the same department …
Fatima, who is on the Wapda team, practises regularly, even when there is no camp under way. “You practise regularly to build a rhythm. And then you just cannot lose that rhythm you build, because it is what helps you improve,” she says.
The 24-year-old Fatima says that she was introduced to javelin at the age of 12 or 13 by her school sports teacher. “There was the sports day coming up in our school and my sports teacher asked if I’d like to come for javelin practice. I threw the javelin some 15 times every day for two weeks and, what do you know, I had a very proud sports teacher telling me I could do it. I did and I won the school competition,” she beams at the memory.
She says that she was always a sporty kid while growing up. “I have played pithu garam, gulli danda, buntay [marbles] and cricket with my brothers and sisters and cousins in our neighbourhood lanes,” she says.
“Then, when I took up javelin regularly, my family would remind me of how good a cricket player I could also become. But what if I had switched to cricket from javelin and had not been able to perform well there? I also feel better taking part in individual sports. Suppose I’m playing cricket and I drop a catch. Then I let the entire team down. With javelin, I’m at least responsible for my own performance,” she explains.
That said, Fatima does feel that cricketers have a far better deal than any other athlete or sportsperson in Pakistan. “We have to take care of our own diet and training. I am employed with Wapda on contract. I only get a basic salary and not any extra funding for my gym or dietary needs. Even during camp, we have to take care of our needs ourselves.
“It is understandable too, Wapda can’t possibly manage to take care of 80 to 100 players. So some of my friends and I pool in money and buy eggs, milk, chicken, etc. Having inherited my mother’s culinary skills, I then cook for my friends during camps,” she smiles. Fatima is nothing if not accommodating.
Fatima says that she joined Wapda in 2016 but she is still a contractual employee. “There was this talk of privatising Wapda but then, in 2018, there was a letter sent to them from the Ministry of Energy to not regularise any employees. Because of this, many sportspersons’ cases, including mine, have been pending,” she explains.
Fatima has a general BA degree but she wants to go for an MSc in Sports Sciences. “I have fallen behind a little because I have had to skip classes and examinations due to national camps, but I’m very serious about completing my education,” she says.
“Education is very important. And an MSc in Sports Sciences will enable me to apply for the sports officer’s post in any district or look for a sports teacher’s job in any university,” she says dreamily.
“I come from a normal middle class family, so I have to think practically. My father is a machine operator in a textile factory and my mother is a housewife,” she adds. And does being practical also mean settling down?
“Oh no,” she laughs. “There is my older sister in line for that before me for my parents to concentrate on,” she says while quickly changing the topic. “I plan to teach javelin. I want more girls in sports and athletics. There are already very few girls taking part in sports in our country,” she says.
“Arshad Nadeem, who is also from Faisalabad and from my department Wapda, has already shown that there is talent here and, if given the chance, we can also perform at the world level. I want people here to think beyond team sports,” she says.
And does Arshad Nadeem help or coach his juniors in javelin? “Oh yes! He is our inspiration!” she exclaims immediately. “He was also in Baku with us in 2019. He is such a great sportsman, always available for coaching or to share tips with others who are willing to learn and work hard,” she says.
For now, Fatima has her gaze fixed on the next national javelin championship. “It’s a month or so after Eid. Competition is always good for enhancing one’s performance,” she says determinedly.
The writer is a member of staff
She tweets @HasanShazia
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 8th, 2022