Packing a Punch: Pakistani women take up boxing
Boxing as a sport is getting popular in Pakistan.
A number of Pakistani women are taking up boxing with the dream of making their country proud at the international games
In February this year, Pakistan made headlines by sending a women's boxing team for the first time to an international event - the 12th South Asian Games that took place in Guwahati and Shillong, India.
Boxing is quite a popular sport across the country and the women's boxing team was chosen from Peshawar and Punjab. The team included Rukhsana Parveen, Khoushleem Bano and Sofia Javed, who competed in a number of categories.a
The journey was tough for the three athletes as they were quoted saying that in order to achieve their dream of competing they had to battle conservative groups in Pakistan who believe women should not participate in the sport. But their goal to represent their country on an international platform gave them the courage to tackle their detractors.
The trio took up boxing in early 2015 and have been trained by coach Nauman Karim, a bronze medallist at the 2003 World Boxing Championship.
The women credit India's Mary Kom, a five-time world champion and a film based on her life that starred actress Priyanka Chopra, as their inspiration to take up the sport.
Parveen was formerly a member of the Pakistan World Cup team for kabaddi, and the team won bronze in 2014. The boxer from Multan says that she took up the challenge after learning that Pakistan had no woman boxers.
While these women were winning laurels for the country on the international stage, at home a group of eight young girls in Karachi have been training at the Pak Shaheen Boxing Club in Lyari for the last six months. During the week, the girls aged eight to 17, go to the club after school to practice the sport in the hope of bringing a medal to Pakistan.
Younis Qambrani founded the club in 1992 and feels that the growth of the sport for both men and women in Pakistan has been affected by the lack of adequate facilities, but he believes the situation is slowly improving. Coach Qambrani started teaching these girls after being inundated with requests by them to teach them the art of self-defence.
It all started when a 16-year-old girl, Khadijah, approached the 2013 Sindh boxing champion and resident of Lyari, Nadir Kachi, and asked him to train her. She wanted to learn to box, but couldn't find any club who would teach her. Kachi took her to his coach Qambrani. The coach started including Khadijah in training sessions. A few days later, another girl showed up asking for training, having heard of Khadijah's training sessions. Word spread and in a short span of time the coach had 13 girls in his home, all wanting to become boxers. At that point, the coach knew he had to find a space start an official programme for them.
One of the ambassadors for boxing in Pakistan has been UK's two-time former world champion Amir Khan, whose parents originally hail from the country. Khan offered some high-profile backing to the sport when he visited Karachi last year to help create new boxing academies in order to unlock some of the potential the nation has for achieving success in the sport.
One such indicator of improvement was when the Sindh Boxing Association organised a camp for female boxers in Karachi last year, the first time that a government-supported event for women in the sport was held in the country, according to reports.
With a long road ahead of these women, their participation in boxing tournaments is certainly promising and seeing them in the ring in their white tracksuits, headscarves and boxing gloves, all ready to pack a punch, is truly heartening.
Dubai-based Lianna Swan became the first Pakistani woman swimmer to clinch a gold medal at the 12th South Asian Games. She claimed the medal in 200-metre breaststroke. Swan, who is currently studying at the Loughborough College in the UK, holds seven national records and has been swimming since she moved to Dubai at the age of 12. The athlete was born in Bahrain, but her father is British and her mother Pakistani and she had a choice when it came to selecting the country she wanted to represent. She says that she's proud and very happy to be representing Pakistan at different international platforms.