The ‘Queen’ of the field


You! Who motivated you to get into the sport?

Fatima Khan: My father. He was an Air Force officer and also a great athlete. He had always pushed me and my sister to get out of our comfort zone. He took us swimming, cycling and so on. My mother used to train me for badminton on our lawn while my father wanted me to be a cricketer. When I was in sixth grade my father put me into a cricket academy. I played under-14 cricket at the district level as a kid. I was the captain of my high school and college pitching team. I was also a badminton tournament champion at the inter-campus tournament.

You! What was it like becoming Pakistan’s first football commissioner?

FC: I started playing soccer after my father died. It’s been six and a half years since I started playing. My mentor, Sir Nasir Ismail, saw my hard work and passion and gave me the opportunity to become the first female football match commissioner. I was the only woman among 300 men and it was an all-boys tournament with clubs run by men. It wasn’t an easy task because I was very new to it. I was a player, a coach, and sometimes tournament director with my home academy, Garrison Football Academy (GFA). I was more nervous than happy. This was a huge opportunity and tournament that should be covered by the media; and I knew I had to stand out and make the most of it.

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You! What are your responsibilities in this position?

FC: As match commissioner, I have to keep track of every little detail, from the ground conditions to the information of each individual player and club. I go to the venue early, check the pitch, liaise with the referees, speak to pitch management and walk them through everything, have the balls checked, check in with clubs arrival time, equipment, everything. I have to do the match report. There wasn’t a single second to miss, so it was really hard being a first time. I mean all you see at a football tournament is the hard work of a match commissioner after the players.

You! What is the best thing about your current position?

FC: To put it more lightly, while the match commissioner is the king of the game, I’ve been given the title of ‘Queen’ as Pakistan’s first female match commissioner and how much fun it is to be a queen that is not ruled by a king . As much fun as it is, it comes with great responsibility and a lot of hard work. The best thing about this position is the respect I’ve earned over the past few months. All club owners, managers and players have a lot of respect for me because of the position.

You! Tell us about other titles you’ve achieved over the years?

FC: Aside from being Pakistan’s first female Football Commissioner, I am a D-Licensed Coach certified by the Pakistan Football Association. I was a coach and now a manager at GFA; my home club. I captained my team Mohsen Gillani FC at the 2022 National Football Championship. I was vice-captain of my football team at Karachi University in the Intervarsity Football Tournament. I was Commecs College Athlete of the Year 2016-17. I have also received several medals and trophies for various sporting events including 100m, 200m and 400m sprints (short distance races) and relay races.

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You! Participating in a physically demanding sport like soccer is a double challenge for girls. Have you ever experienced hurdles and gender stereotypes on and off the pitch?

FC: Yes, I have. A lot of people tried to drag me down. Even as a soccer player, I was confronted with prejudice. I was betrayed and cheated as a player by some of the very prestigious clubs in Pakistan and there was a point where I got so frustrated that I wanted to end it all and move on. The driving force had always been my mother. She always supported me and reminded me of all the energy and hard work I put into it. There have been several cases where people; My relatives, my teammates, and my superiors tried to drag me down. I vividly remember our relatives telling or blaming my mother for getting me into a sport that girls can’t do; that I would wear shorts and play among men at the academy or whatever. Despite the discouraging comments, I always received a warm hug from my mother, who was always by my side at my training sessions, my tournaments, my club meetings, everything.

You! In addition to the lack of government support, media coverage of sports other than cricket is scarce. How does it affect the passion of young athletes if they don’t get recognition?

FC: I believe that government support and media coverage of the sport is a must. There are several clubs in different areas of Karachi that have produced really good players not only in football but also in other sports. Young athletes try hard, but they need attention. There is a lot of talent in Pakistan but unfortunately opportunities are rare. Talents must be encouraged. You can find a stone, but you wouldn’t know it was a diamond until it was finely worked, as is the case with talent. There are no awareness campaigns for sport. Earlier this year ‘Kamyaab Jawan’, an initiative by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was held to provide a platform for all athletes from across the country, but I don’t see anything like this happening any time soon.

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You! How good are the facilities and development programs for young footballers in Pakistan compared to other countries?

FC: If I really compare to other countries, on a scale of 1 to 10, the level of skill development facilities and programs for young footballers in Pakistan is hardly a 3. And that too, fortunately because of clubs like Popo Football Club, GFA, Karachi City FC and Karachi United which provide the children with proper training along with various skill development programs and training for tactical and technical aspects of football.

You! Do you think that men and women have the same chances and opportunities to participate in sports? If no, then why do you think?

FC: I guess not. We live in a male-dominated society. There are countless options for men, but hardly any for women. We’re still a long way from having the same opportunities as men in sport, and even if we do get an opportunity, there’s a lot of emotional and mental baggage for those around us.

You! How can we motivate girls/women who are currently disconnected from sport?

FC: People have forgotten the importance of physical activity. It should be an integral part of your daily routine. There was a time when right after Asar prayer our parents would tell us to go out and play, but now it’s the exact opposite. It’s time to urge your girls to step out into the scorching sunlight and pave their way. Sport awareness campaigns and programs should be set up to motivate young girls and offer them various opportunities to develop their interest in sport as a field.

You! Where do you see Pakistani female athletes in the future?

FC: Female athletes in Pakistan are already breaking the glass ceiling in sport on their own. We need to end gender stereotypes and the government should start programs to support female athletes.

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You! Who is your favorite sports personality?

FC: As a child, I admired Shahid Afridi a lot. If you ask me, I’m a fan of Brazilian soccer player Marcelo and Spanish soccer player Gerard Pique. I also adore Suha Hirani from Karachi City Football Club and Abdullah Shah from Mehran Football Club. I hope these two continue to inspire young athletes across the country.

You! What is your recipe for success?

FC: Never to lie and never to look down on anyone. For me, I move at my own pace and that keeps me going.

You! Your philosophy of life:

FC: Life has its ups and downs. Keep it up. There will always be someone who is secretly committed to your success, do not disappoint them and especially not yourself.

You! How do you relax?

FC: Sometimes I just came home and sat around and chilled with mom. Some days I would walk the car, listen to my favorite songs, or eat my favorite food. So it depends on how much energy I have left and what I was looking forward to at the end of the day.

You! What is your most prized possession?

FC: My mother. I still remember whenever I was feeling down on the field I would look at the stands and there was my mother, the only woman in the crowd, giving me a thumbs up from a distance and telling me I did could create. While everyone was trying to put me down as a footballer, my mother and sister stood next to me like a wall blocking everything off.

You! What does a typical day look like for you?

FC: The routine depends on how much energy I have left in me most days because it gets really difficult to handle office, football and home at the same time. Weekends are my soccer days. I train at the same academy, GFA, because it’s my home club.

You! How do you master your private and professional life?

FC: Sometimes it gets really difficult. There have been times when I had to give up my personal life for my job and times when I had to risk my job for my personal life. I’ve had times where I’ve stayed out all day. On days like this I can’t give my mother time and it hurts to think about it, but that’s life. Some days when I’m in my office I have to skip soccer, which completely messes up my schedule. It’s all part of life. Everyone is in a constant rush. But I believe everything falls into place if you have the right intention.

You! What are your future plans? Do you plan to play at international level?

FC: The future looks bleak since FIFA banned the Football Federation of Pakistan. No tournaments are organized at national level, no proper platform is currently provided for women footballers, but male footballers have the privilege of participating in various tournaments that take place in the country. I always wanted to play at international level, be it athletics or soccer. But after the ban, my morale dropped because I worked hard. But I believe that there are always ups and downs in sport and that one day it will get better. I’m still looking forward to playing the green flag with pride and representing my country at international level.

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