Sumaira is the co-founder of the first-ever women’s football league in Northern Pakistan. Currently Lahore-based, the young talent created the organisation in 2018 with her sister to introduce better sporting opportunity to their rural community. Hailing from the stunning, mountainous region of Shimshal, the girls had noticed a general lack of football, but especially for women from less urbanised parts of the country. “Cricket is very popular but not so much other sports. Additionally, there are cultural barriers to have our gender play football e.g., among a few stereotypical taboos, people believe that a woman will lose her virginity if she does so and that her place is in the home. I have played from the age of 16, and locals have complained that I’m not covered up etc.” In order to foster a safe yet freeing space then, the Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League was born!
The aim has been to provide participants a transformative experience, giving them a proper education that would continually expand. Cultivating the football results in a social “certificate of achievement” that garners scholarships. Even if the next step isn’t necessarily physically active, GBGFL’s girls have their doors opened to higher education. “Another key point about the league is that it covers all the costs (travel, accommodation, food, kits etc). The idea is to give girls a platform where they can play without any financial barriers.” Indeed, Sumaira herself has risen this way, receiving a full sports scholarship for her undergraduate degree at University of the Punjab in Lahore and going on to work as an assistant coach with Atletico Madrid Football Academy in that same major city. The passionate pioneer was also one of the first girls from Shimshal “to play football, representing Pakistan in the nation’s public games (Jubilee Games 2016)”. Usually mid-fielder on the left, Sumaira emphasised this as a highlight: “the finals were held in Dubai internationally and we won the silver medal in the community tournament!”
The Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League has been running successfully for two years now, allowing teams from different areas of the rocky Hunza terrain, including the valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, to compete amongst each other and showcase their hidden gift: “we hope not only to help players reach the heights that they deserve, but also to elevate Pakistan through the expansion of women’s football. It is a dream to one day be able to have our girls play professionally and abroad. One of my favourite female players is Marta from Brazil who is just incredible in every way! It would be wonderful if we could have her mentor and inspire our girls...” Indeed, aptly, the chosen football ‘stadium’ of the GBGFL has been at the foot of Mount Tupopdon: a grand yellow structure that towers over the Passu Valley, captured beautifully by the social enterprise, Goal Click (pictured). As well as “being easily accessible during the league’s second season,” Sumaira stated that the location has “incredible natural grandeur, elevating the mindset of courage into ambition.”
She concluded by applauding the special appeal of football itself: “I always refer to it as a life-changing gadget. Since I started, I’ve gone from being a shy girl to an impactful leader. The sport has given me the motivation to work hard and focus as well as championing the philosophy of respect. Football teaches us as much about friendship: working with others. I’ve certainly felt bonded with my girls, and you can make friends from all over the world, regardless of your background.” Indeed, the qualities of healthy discipline, efficiency, flexibility, and collaboration are widely ascribed to the game. Finally, not only does Sumaira and her philanthropic project demonstrate the pure power of football but furthermore that of deeper human resolve. Clean confidence is the foundation for steady progress. "The pictures with Goal Click also capture the positive dimension of women's football. As opposed to a one-dimensional concept of the marginalised, they depict a fully-fledged mighty image."
I:@play.gbgfl, @_SumairaInayat, @gbgfl
F:Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League