Pakistan’s Women Rugby

Pakistan is located in a region where there are more people engulfed in extreme poverty than any other area in the world. Ratio-wise, this isn’t the case because Africa, as a continent, is worse off. However, more than one-third of a billion people live in extreme poverty in at least, two of Pakistan’s neighbouring countries. Pakistan, itself, has a sizeable population of people living in extreme poverty, as well.

With an economy that has almost solely relied on the agriculture sector since it’s inception, you would think that Pakistan would have become a breadbasket for the region. On the contrary, the country can’t seem to feed it’s own people and has resorted to importing items as basic as tomatoes (something you can grow in your own yard).

Therefore, having rugby teams in a country immersed in poverty might confuse a lot of people. The players are usually much bigger than your average Joe or Javed, in our case and consequently, require a lot of resources with food being the main one.

So how is Pakistan doing it? Well, it’s not.

They’re feeding themselves. They have no sponsors, no support, nothing; it’s all self-funded. Same is the case for women’s rugby. The players and staff are all doing it on their own; out of passion for the sport. The women have an added advantage of, unsurprisingly, being female athletes in a country like Pakistan where this concept is still very new. We are yet to produce a Sharapova equivalent in the country; although, one of our cricketers married a female tennis star but Pakistan didn’t produce that talent.

So, women, in this case, are working twice as hard as the men because our male players don’t necessarily have to break any social or cultural barriers. This is not to give the impression that women are somehow being stopped by their families or the environment for them to play isn’t conducive because there are women’s teams all over the country. However, it isn’t a norm. While attitudes are starting to change, women in Pakistan playing rugby is like walking into an elitist ball with a huge purple Mohawk and a leather jacket. It’s still a bit of an oddity but the players and coaching staff are trying to educate the masses rather than act rebellious.

And this would’ve been the obvious conclusion for anyone who would have read this far.

In a country with 45% of children suffering from stunted growth, primarily due to rampant corruption and extraordinary incompetence, producing competitive, world-class players is still a huge feat. Our girls have been competing in international tournaments, the world over. They’re now taking part in the Asia Rugby tournament being held in Brunei. Asia Rugby, incidentally, has reached an understanding with the Pakistan Rugby Union to promote the latter.

This post may seem boring to some because it hasn’t included any mention of buzzwords or terms like “women empowerment”, “gender equality”, “fighting the patriarchy” that are really trendy, these days. But the fact is that it’d be unrealistic to pretend women rugby players can have a role in any of that, at least, for the time being.

This doesn’t mean that they’re not trying or the media isn’t giving them their due coverage. They get their proportionate share on local news and there are new entrants coming from all kinds of socioeconomic and regional backgrounds in teams all over Pakistan.

If we really wish to use the aforementioned terms, maybe we can look at cricket because that sport overshadows all others in the country. This holds true until rugby gets the same kind of funding, audiences, coverage, etc. That can only happen when our pool of players increases and that requires some fundamental changes in our society, as a whole; not just the sport, itself.

But since societal changes is an issue that goes far beyond the scope of this blog post, lets consider some recommendations for both versions of the sport in some very simple terms: tournaments, leagues and live broadcasts.

People won’t know about the sport or the players till they get coverage. For coverage, there needs to be something going on like tournaments and leagues for which, in turn, you need sponsors. But sponsors won’t show up till there’s some airtime booked, in advance, where they can reach a greater audience for their company.

Seems like everything comes back full circle to coverage and the promotion of the sport is directly linked to it. Fortunately, the country already has a national sports channel but it is far more concerned with highlights that they play like daytime soap opera re-runs that no one wants to watch.

Audiences would much rather watch something a bit different and unique; you know, something like rugby. We can only hope they understand.

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