Aiming high

November 15, 2020

Sarah Khan is running an archery club in Peshawar

Archery is sometimes considered a man’s game. In the past, it has enjoyed great respect and high status on the lands of Yousafzai tribes of Pashtuns. Archery was called mukha. These days, however, it has declined in popularity. It has only managed to survive in Swabi district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Each year, a mukha tournament is held with teams from across the province participating.

The patriarchal tradition about mukha are being challenged by 37-year-old Sarah Khan, who hails from the Malakand district. She has only recently moved to Peshawar and established herself as the only woman archery coach in the region. She is not only training women, but also men.

“My interest in the game goes back to 2013, when I started practicing by myself. However, there were no archery ranges in Peshawar then. It was really difficult to practice or get professional guidance. Despite these disadvantages, I remained interested in this sport,” says Sarah tells The News on Sunday (TNS).

“In 2016 I heard of a training camp for archery being held at General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi. I applied and was admitted to the three-month training course.”

She says it was a wonderful experience and she learnt a lot. “After returning to Peshawar, I was invited to participate in the National Championship. I represented Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the first time. It was a good experience. I was treated with great respect across the country.” After returning from the championship, she says, she started to look for a place to train others and practice herself.

“It is not feasible to travel to Rawalpindi for archery practice. So, I starting looking for a place closer to home where I could exercise and train. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a suitable place. In 2017, I requested the Pakistan Sports Board for a training ground. The board arranged a place for me at Qayyum Stadium, Peshawar. Initially, I had to practice alone. After a few days, I decided to form a club to attract other people to this sport.”

“In consultation with my colleagues, I decided to start the Pakhtunkhwa Archery Club at Qayyum Stadium, Peshawar. Within a few days, I got a few students who showed interest in the sport.”

In the beginning, there were only male students. However, with the passage of time, a few girls also took interest in the game and joined the club. According to the club record, a total of 19 people have joined so far.

Sarah has recently got a student who is blind and physically handicapped. Sarah has trained the girls so well that one of her students got a gold middle last year in the provincial games.

When she was asked about the attitude of people towards her, she said: “I have travelled across the country from Karachi to Chitral. Negative comments are made only as a way of stopping women from pursuing their dreams.”

“In 2016 I heard of a training camp for archery at the General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi. I immediately applied and was admitted to the three-month training course. After coming back to Peshawar, I was asked to participate in the National Championship. I represented Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as a woman player for the first time,” says Sarah Khan.

Sarah trains her students free of cost. She also provides the equipment for those who show keen interest. She tells TNS that a majority of her students have been so poor they couldn’t afford the equipment.

She has requested the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Tourism and Sports Directorate to support her club members. “Most of our expenses are met by the members. However, sometimes it is really difficult to keep things going. Then we use the money coming from various events and competitions”

By profession, she is a sports teacher at Agriculture School and College, Peshawar. She says her family is very supporting. “For me, archery is a passion. It keeps me busy all day.”

“All my students are cooperative. We try to teach them to respect one another and focus on the game. My students range from eight-year-olds to senior citizens. I have affection for all of them. They understand me. We want this sport to be once again popular in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

At a time when the issue of harassment against women is in the spotlight, Sarah Khan says she has zero tolerance for disorderly behaviour at the club. “I keep a close eye on my students. All of them are my responsibility. I keep in touch with their parents as well.”

“Initially, some parents did not consider this game of any value to their kids. After my team participated in several events and won, more parents starting taking interest in the game and now allow their children to learn it.”

She does not approve of the parents who try to confine their children to schools and tuition centers. “It is unjust to force children to stay away from sports. Parents and teachers should not force their choices on the children. They (children) must be allowed to choose their own path. A child can’t go far with choices imposed upon them.”

She says there should be a merit-based system in sports federations to allow deserving candidates to participate in national games. “Many sports organisers try to oblige their relatives or friends. They must think about the bigger picture and allow any competent sportsman to move forward regardless of the fact of their affiliation.”

Sarah Khan says her next objective is to send her students to an international archery competition. “This journey will continue. I hope that more and more people take interest in this game,” she says.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Peshawar and tweets at Wasim_Chashmato

Aiming high