x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Pakistan women break into new territory with Kabaddi World Cup debut

New team makes breakthrough in traditionally macho sport

A Danish kabaddi player, centre right, is tackled by her Pakistani opponent during the Kabaddi World Cup in Chohla Sahib, India, on Monday. Kabaddi, a team sport that originated in the Indian sub-continent, involves team members making 'raids' into the opposing team's territory on a playing field in an attempt to 'tag' opponents while holding one's breath and chanting the word 'kabaddi'.  Narinder Nanu / AFP
A Danish kabaddi player, centre right, is tackled by her Pakistani opponent during the Kabaddi World Cup in Chohla Sahib, India, on Monday. Kabaddi, a team sport that originated in the Indian sub-continent, involves team members making 'raids' into the opposing team's territory on a playing field in an attempt to 'tag' opponents while holding one's breath and chanting the word 'kabaddi'. Narinder Nanu / AFP

Sixteen Pakistani women made history on Monday as they played their opening game in the Kabaddi World Cup in India, marking the first time the country 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 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 the Pakistan women are trying to change that perception at the tournament, which finishes on December 14.

For Sayeda Fareeda Khanum, 24, who comes from a conservative 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 during 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 make a do-or-die battle for my nation and prove that Pakistani girls can do whatever 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,” said vice-captain Sumera Zahoor, who comes from a martial arts background. “And we have tried our level best, and by the will of god, we will succeed.”

Having decided to field a women’s team, authorities wrote to top sports organisations and educational institutions, collecting a group from diverse backgrounds.

It has not been easy for the support staff to bring the team together and direct their potential.

“All the girls come from different games, some are from athletics, some are weightlifters,” said Aisha Qazi, the team’s coach.

“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, a first-class cricketer and international baseball player, said the squad is thrilled to be the first women’s team to represent Pakistan in international kabbadi.

Head coach Ghulam Abbas Butt said he was confident that 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.”

Monday’s match ended in a 45-39 defeat to Denmark. The Pakistan women also face England and Mexico in their group, while archrivals India, who beat New Zealand 44-12 on Sunday, play the United States and Kenya.

sports@thenational.ae