Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League: When football will be played on cricket ground

KARACHI: On August 15, Karishma Inayat put up a video and the video was riveting with Mike Posner’s “I took a Pill in Ibiza” playing. It was riveting, because this was from the inaugural Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League (GBGFL).

The chorus is what you can hear in the background as the camera took a view of the ground that the girls from seven teams last year were to compete at. The chorus said “All I know are sad songs, sad songs.” But it is a song set up on a remix with a party beat.

A girls’ football league that too in Hunza is surely a cause to put anyone on the cheering mode, but the video and the song went beautifully well, unwittingly maybe, because one thing that would catch your attention is the surface the girls would be playing the league on.

The ground looks hard, no grass, a bit rocky, in the backdrop of serene mountains, this year, it might just get rockier, but there lies the crux of the matter: the girls are willing to play, and they will play with all their might, even if they have learned to play football recently, but there are no proper football grounds in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), at least not in Hunza.

Karishma, a confident and bright young women as she has become, who also represented Pakistan in the 2016 Jubilee games in Dubai along with her sister Sumaira, came up with the idea for the GBGFL where they wanted to make football a way for the girls from the villages to find their way to a better future.

She wanted the girls to have something more to look forward to, as back in the day in GB the education was there but not proper, and furthermore the suicide rate was also alarming. However, last year, the Shimshali Sister as Karishma and Sumaira are popularly known, decided to organise the first league, while this year will be the second edition, starting on September 13 at the Passu Football Ground Suronobod, Gojal, Hunza.

Last year, the event was organised on a cricket ground but so is the case this year. “This year we are holding it on a different ground, but it is a cricket ground, and rockier than last year I feel,” the 21-year-old told The Express tribune. “But the truth is that there are so many female athletes in Pakistan, there are so many girls who want to play football but there are no facilities. And although the surface is hard and they may get injuries, they are not scared to play, not afraid of getting hurt, the girls are brave.”

The video is just one example of how these girls are making the best of the time that they have, as the Pakistan Football federation never thought of establishing any grounds in GB, nor did the local sports board, and there comes the challenges, beside just the fact that it is hard to convince parents to let their girls play, but even that becomes easier with time.

However, it is the authorities that seem to lag behind, especially when it comes to the well-being of the athletes, and more so for football that is undoubtedly the world’s most popular sport, but probably the most neglected in Pakistan.

This year, eight teams will be competing in the league, and Karishma is happy with the venue because at least there will be no sand storms like at the venue last year.

“I just want to say that we need football grounds, and it is important,” said Karishma, who is studying at the Punjab University and plays for their team too.

“There are lots of challenges, financially we had issues, but we wanted to give the girls coming from different villages the accommodation and everything that they deserve. We want to give them the experience in sports so that they can use it to study further, like we are studying in Lahore now, to get scholarships. In fact we want to hold leadership programs and parents are encouraging too, but just as footballers we don’t know what is our future.

“Obviously we have concerns but we want to have camps for the girls and these programs that can teach them leadership skills, and we want to show that this can bring change.”

This time Peshawar Zalmi is also supporting the league, and the cause is bigger than it meets the eye, so Karishma hopes that the girls can make a better place for themselves in the future and have choices too.

“I’m studying in Punjab University because of my football career, and we want the same opportunities for others,” said Karishma.

Although she has already represented the country internationally with Jubilee Games, she feels that there is a long way for the national team call, as the PFF is not making a national team due to the political upheaval since 2015 with Fifa to announce the members of Normalisation Committee this month, and the last time Pakistan women competed internationally was 2014.

But the striker wants to represent the country if the opportunity comes her way in the future.

When they first started, the younger girls did not know the techniques of the sport but they learned fast and from seven teams from last year, there is an addition of one more this year, with a visible increase in the interest too.

The league will have more than 120 players competing in it, while the final will take place on September 17.

The teams include Shimshal, Chipurson, Shishkat, Passu, Sost, Hunza, Khyber & Gircha, divided into two pools of four teams each and top four will play the semi-finals.

The villages are from upper Hunza and she added that in coming years she wants to expand the league to other villages in lower GB too.

The league will go on and it is a promising project, but Karishma’s voice becomes more impassioned when it comes to the fact that the facilities need to be provided, and at least the government can provide a proper football ground.

“Please work on football,” said Karishma. “Work on the grounds, the girls risk themselves, the injuries but it would be great if we get ground.”

The GB Sports Board is affiliated with the Pakistan Sports Board, while there are local sports bodies too, that can help, at least in the hopes that when the league takes place next year the football grounds are available and not in a sad state as now, where the footballers have to play on cricket grounds.

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