You! Who motivated you to get into sports?
Fatimah Khan: My father. He was an Air Force officer and a great sportsman as well. He had always pushed me and my sister to step out of our comfort zones. He got us into swimming, cycling and stuff like that. My mother used to train me for badminton in our lawn while my father wanted me to become a cricketer. When I was a sixth-grader my father got me into a cricket academy. I have played U-14 district level cricket as a child. I was the captain of my school and college Throw Ball team. I was also a Badminton tournament winner at the inter-campus tournament.
You! What was it like to become Pakistan’s first female football match commissioner?
FK: I started playing football after my father’s demise. It has been six and a half years since I first started playing. My mentor, Sir Nasir Ismail saw my hard work and passion and gave me this opportunity to become the first female football match commissioner. I was the only female amongst 300 men and it was an all-boys tournament with clubs managed by males. It was not an easy task because I was very new to this. I was a player, a coach, and sometimes into managing tournaments with my home academy Garrison Football Academy (GFA). I was more nervous than happy. This was a huge opportunity and a huge tournament that was to be covered by the media; and I knew I had to stand out and make the most of it.
You! What are your responsibilities with this position?
FK: As a match commissioner, I have to keep a check on every little detail from the ground conditions to each and every player’s and clubs’ information. I go to the venue early, check the ground, get in touch with the referees, talk to the ground management and guide them through everything, get the playing balls checked, check-in with the clubs’ arrival time, kits, everything. I have to make the match report. There was not a single second that was to be missed by me so it was really hard being a first time. I mean everything you see happening in a football tournament is the hard work of a match commissioner, after the players.
You! What is the best part of your current position?
FK: On a lighter note, while the match commissioner is the King of the game, I’ve received the title of being the ‘Queen’, as the woman’s first match commissioner of Pakistan and how fun it is to be a queen who isn’t led by a king. As much as it is fun, it comes in with great responsibilities and much hard work. The best part of this position is the respect I’ve gained in the past few months. All the club owners, managers and players give massive respect to me due to the position.
You! Tell us about any other titles that you have achieved over the years?
FK: Apart from being Pakistan’s first female football commissioner, I am a Pakistan Football Federation certified D Licensed coach. I was a coach and now a manager at the GFA; my home club. I was the Captain of my team “Mohsen Gillani FC” at the Football National Championship 2022. In the Intervarsity Football Tournament, I was the Vice-Captain of my football team at the University of Karachi. I was the Sportswoman of the Year 2016-17 at Commecs College. I have received several medals and trophies for different athletic events as well which include 100m 200m and 400m sprints (races over short distances) and relay races.
You! Participating in a physically demanding sport like football is a twofold challenge for girls. Have you ever experienced any hurdles and gender stereotyping on and off the field?
FK: Yes, I did. Many people tried to pull me down. Even as a football player, I faced bias. I have been betrayed and cheated on as a player by some of the very renowned clubs in Pakistan and there was a point when I got so frustrated that I wanted to end everything and move on. The driving force had always been my mother. She used to back me up making me remember all the energy and hard work I had put in. There have been several cases where people; my relatives, my teammates, and my seniors, tried to pull me down. I vividly remember our relatives telling my mother or rather accusing her that she’s helped me into a sport not feasible for girls; that I would be wearing shorts and playing among men at the academy or whatsoever. Despite the disheartening comments, I have always received a heartfelt hug from my mother who has always been there by my side at my training sessions, my tournaments, my club meetings, everything.
You! Besides lack of government support, media coverage of sports other than cricket is thin on ground. How does it impact the passion of young athletes when they don’t get the acknowledgement?
FK: I believe that government support and media coverage of sports is a must. Several clubs are in different localities of Karachi which have produced really good players, not just in football but in other sports as well. Young athletes are putting in a lot of effort but they need to be noticed. There is a lot of talent in Pakistan but sadly opportunities are rare. Talent needs to be nurtured. You can find a rock but you wouldn’t know it’s a diamond until it’s finely crafted, so is the case with talent. There are no awareness campaigns for sports. Earlier this year, ‘Kamyaab Jawan’, an initiative was carried out by the former Prime Minister Imran Khan, that provided a platform to all the athletes from across the country but I don’t see anything happening like that in the near future.
You! Compared to other countries, what is the level of facilities and skill development programmes for young footballers in Pakistan?
FK: If I truly compare to other countries, on a scale from 1 to 10, the level of facilities and skill development programmes for young footballers in Pakistan is hardly a 3. And that too, thankfully because of clubs like Popo Football Club, GFA, Karachi City FC and Karachi United who are providing proper training along with different programmes for skill development and training for tactical and technical areas of football to the kids.
You! Do you think men and women have equal opportunities and facilities to participate in sports? If not, then why do you think so?
FK: I suppose not. We live in a male-dominated society. There are a gazillion opportunities for men all around but hardly for women. We are nowhere near the mark of getting the same facilities in sports as men and even if we get an opportunity, it comes with a lot of emotional and mental baggage for people around.
You! How can we motivate girls/women who are currently disengaged from sport?
FK: People have forgotten how important physical activity is. It should be an integral part of your daily routine. There was a time when right after asar prayers our parents used to tell us to go out and play but now, it’s the complete opposite. It’s time to push your girls to step out in the scorching sunlight and pave their paths. Sports awareness campaigns and programmes should be set up to motivate young girls and different opportunities should be provided to them so they can develop their interests in sports as a field.
You! Where do you see Pakistani sports women in the future?
FK: Women athletes in Pakistan are already breaking the glass ceiling in sports on their own. We need to end the gender stereotypes and the government should launch programmes to back up female athletes.
You! Who is your favourite sports personality?
FK: As a kid, I used to admire Shahid Afridi a lot. Now if you ask me, I am a fan of Brazilian footballer Marcelo and Spanish footballer Gerard Pique. I also adore Suha Hirani of Karachi City Football Club and Abdullah Shah of Mehran Football Club. I hope these two keep inspiring young athletes across the country.
You! What is your recipe for success?
FK: To never lie and to never look down on anyone. For me, I move at my own pace and that is what keeps me going.
You! Your philosophy of life:
FK: Life has its ups and downs. Keep on moving. There will always be someone secretly rooting for your success, don’t disappoint them and especially don’t disappoint yourself.
You! How do you unwind?
FK: Sometimes I would just get back home, sit around and chill with ma. On some days, I would go out for a little drive listening to my favourite songs or eat my favourite meal. So it depends on how much energy is left in me and what I had been looking forward to doing when the day ends.
You! What is your most treasured possession?
FK: My mother. I still remember, whenever I used to feel down on the field I used to look up at the stands and there was my mother, the only female in the crowd giving me a thumbs up from afar and telling me that I could do it. While everyone tried to pull me down being a footballer, my mother and sister stood beside me like a wall blocking out everything.
You! What does a typical day look like for you?
FK: The routine depends on the level of energy I have left in me on most days because it gets really difficult handling office, football and home at the same time. Weekends are my football days. I train at the same academy, GFA because it’s my home club.
You! How do you manage your personal and professional life?
FK: Sometimes it gets really difficult. There have been times when I had to put away my personal life for my profession and times when I had to risk my profession for my personal life. I’ve had times when I’ve stayed out all day. On days like these, I’m unable to give time to my mother and thinking about it hurts me but this is how life is. On some days when I have my office, I have to skip football, so my schedule gets all distorted. It is all part of life. Everyone is in a constant hustle. But I believe everything falls right in place if you have the right intention.
You! What are your future plans? Do you plan to play at international level?
FK: Since the banning of the Pakistan Football Federation by FIFA, the future is dark. No tournaments are being organised on a national level, no proper platform is being provided to female footballers right now however male footballers have the privilege to play in different tournaments taking place in the country. I had always planned to play on an international level, whether it was athletics or football. But after the ban, my morale got low as I had worked hard. But I believe there are constant highs and lows in sports and it's going to get better one day. I still look forward to playing at an international level holding the green flag with pride, representing my country.