By Aslam Chandio, Weekly Pulse, August 26, 2013
For any girl in a country like Pakistan, pursuing studies and taking time out for football and basketball can never be easy without zeal and love for the games. With immense craze for sports and tackling pressure of studies, Sana Mahmud has set a precedent for other women to make waves in the games and studies at higher levels simultaneously. Sana has never found it hard to quench her thirst for games and studies, particularly when the training sessions need to be regular and that too for the national team.
Sana, equally passionate about basketball, didn’t know about the opportunity that was arriving on her doorstep. She heard about a newly established football club, Young Rising Stars (YRS), formed by a passionate footballer Mr. Ghias-ud-din Baloch with the help of US Embassy in Pakistan as part of a 2007 State Department Youth Enrichment Program was coming for trials. During her A-levels at Beaconhouse School Margalla Campus, Islamabad at the age of 17, she got a chance to make impact and get opportunity.
Some 90 girls from twin cities were competing for securing place in the club and Sana made it to the teamwith 35 other girls. Hence, began the professional career of Sana with the YRS (women’s) Football Club, Rawalpindi. “Before playing for YRS, we weren’t briefed on training, tactics or positions but after I joined the club I realized it was an amazing professional set-up. I really enjoyed the vision and the fact that I was being taught something new. As time went on, I gradually started to improve and YRS performances starting improving. I owe a lot to my YRS Coach Shahid Ahmed Khan. He taught me everything which I know about football today.” says central defender Sana.
At that time, the central defender didn’t know that she would one day become captain of Pakistan team. Under Sana’s captaincy, YRS club went on to win four national championship titles – the only club (men’s or women’s) in Pakistan to win national titles for 4 times. Her club won the national titles in the years 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Under her leadership, the YRS also managed to get a bronze and place third in the 2009 championship.
After Sana’s fantastic performance in the national championships, she got a call-up to attend training camp of the Pakistan national women’s team in 2009. But, she could not attend the camp that year due to her ankle injury. However, she was selected for Pakistan team in 2010 and made captain during the same year. She led the Pakistan team for the eight-nation 1st SAFF women’s football championship held in Bangladesh and managed to secure place in the semi-final. Pakistan won its first international match against Maldives by 2-1 and then went on to ruin Afghanistan by 3-0. Due to the lack of international exposure, journey of Pakistan’s team ended in the semi-final against very experienced Indian team. As beginner in the International arena, Sana terms performance of her team outstanding.
“The women’s national team has improved significantly. We reached the SAFF Cup semi-finals in 2010. Coach Tariq Lutfi is also of the opinion that women’s football can progress faster than the Men’s side,” she adds.
However, under her captaincy, Pakistan team did not make any impact in the 2nd SAFF women’s football championship held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. With new coach and management, Pakistan team sent packing without a single win.
“I am generally happy and grateful for what I have been given and what I have done so far. I have formed close bonds with my teammates and they respect me a lot. I will always be grateful for the respect tendered by them. When you love something, it becomes easier to manage time. I went to school/university in the morning and for practice sessions in the evening. I know a lot of people can’t manage it, but I don’t take studies and games as a burden. I look forward to it. So I play. No matter how tired I am,” says Sana.
Eldest of 3 siblings, Sana considers her lucky as parents have always been supportive and source of encouragement for her activities in the sports. Admitting that Pakistan is a conservative society where the sight of women in shorts playing football is consideredcontemptible; Sana believes that it is the passion of girls who are involved in the game that matters. She says, “I always stay away from such negative and unsupportive segments of our society. My parents and friends always support me. They always come to cheer and support me in the stands. My brother is very young (only 12) and he thinks girls can’t do anything. He will grow up soon and learn better.”
Sana argues that there is still a long way to go in terms of domestic structure and the Pakistan Football Federation must take appropriate measures in order to continue climbing the rankings.
Sana believes that not enough steps are being taken for the development of the sport in Pakistan. “Investment in women’s football in terms of more training grounds, attractive incentives to players, organised clubs, international tournaments, proper media coverage and selection of managementon merit basis are keys to the development of the sport,” she maintains.
Pointing out over the role of media, she says,”Media needs to understand that while it is easy for boys at an early age to go out in the street and play cricket or go to an open ground and play football, but girls can’t. Media should come out and properly cover women’s sports as well. At times I feel I am out of shape and want to go out or a jog but I can’t, because I hesitate that there are so many people staring at me on the road. Sometimes, I go out to the park, but the society doesn’t make us feel comfortable at all. Media should create awareness among masses of women’s sports.”
Along with her ample exposure with the national football team, Sana has a number of other feathers in her cap. Sana considers basketball as a game closer to her heart. She has also played numerous basketball tournaments. Sana represented Rawalpindi team in provincial tournament of Punjab held in Faisalabad in 2008 and placed third in the tournament. Then, she represented Bahria University in the all Pakistan Inter University tournament. After outstanding performance, she got a call-up to join Higher Education Commission (HEC) team and won the silver medal for her team in national championship 2012. She represented Islamabad in the 32nd National Games and won the gold medal for her team.
“Pakistan does not have a women’s national team in the game of basketball so far due to the politics inside the federation. So, I have not given a chance to represent Pakistan in the basketball. But I am hopeful that one day I would also represent my country in the International competitions of basketball”, says Sana.
For young girls who want to make waves at the higher levels, she says, “Do everything honestly and with full passion, to the best of your abilities. And always have faith. Things happen. Things work out. You just have to do your part right.”
After completing her Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences from Bahria University, she will be flying soon to Ohio University (USA) for her Master’s degree in International Development on a Fulbright scholarship.
“I have a plan in my mind for future. I would return to Pakistan, set up my own club and try to work for sports development in the country,” says a passionate Sana.