LAHORE: Sixteen young Pakistani women will make history this weekend as they compete in the Kabaddi World Cup -- the first time the conservative Muslim country has ever fielded an international women’s team in the sport.
The traditional tag-wrestling sport involves players trying to tag an opponent before making it back to their half of the field.
Kabaddi is hugely popular in the Punjab provinces of India and Pakistan, where it originates, and is played in countries around the world with South Asian populations.
It has traditionally been seen as a macho sport but now Pakistan is sending a women’s team to the November 30-December 14 World Cup in India.
India and Pakistan, neighbours and ferocious sporting rivals, have met in two of the three mens world cup finals held so far, with India prevailing both times. The women are determined to succeed where their male counterparts have failed.
Having decided to build the womens team, the authorities wrote to top sports organisations and educational institutions, collecting a group of girls coming from diverse sporting backgrounds.
Half already represent various other sports like athletics, weightlifting and racket games, while a few new players with the right attitude and ambitions have also earned a place in the team.
Training for the women in green, yellow and blue tracksuits begins with prayers and a recitation from the Koran. After chants of "Long live Pakistan" and "God is great", they begin physical training before moving on to wrestling techniques.
It has not been an easy task for the support staff to get the team together and direct their potential.
"All the girls come from different games, some are from athletics, some are weightlifters," Aisha Qazi, the teams coach, said. "These are individual players games but kabaddi is a team event, so there is a huge difference and it has taken me some time to teach them."
Qazi, herself a first-class cricketer and international baseball player, said they were thrilled to be the first women’s team to represent Pakistan in international kabbadi.
The Pakistan women face England, Mexico and Denmark in their pool matches while arch rivals India play the United States, Kenya and New Zealand. (AFP)