Synergyzer: Can you share your journey as a former player of the Pakistan National Women’s Football Team and how it has influenced your passion for promoting women’s football?

Rukhsar Rashid: My journey as a former player for the Pakistan National Women’s Football Team and Captain of Diya Women Football Club has fuelled my passion for promoting women’s football. I realized the potential in young athletes, regardless of gender, when representing my country. Overcoming challenges in a male-dominated sport, I transitioned from player to coach with qualifications like AFC C License Coach and UEFA Level 1 Coach certifications, along with the International Futsal Coaching Certificate.

Founding the South Youth Soccer Academy, my vision was to nurture talents irrespective of gender, fostering qualities like self-confidence and teamwork. Volunteering at major tournaments like the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the UEFA Euro Women’s Football Championship 2022 broadened my perspective on women’s football’s global impact. The U.S. Exchange Program in 2019 reinforced the transformative power of sports. Coaching girls’ teams and leading them to international tournaments, including the Gothia Cup China x3, Norway Cup, and Turkey and Azerbaijan Friendly series, has been immensely rewarding. Receiving the 5th Women’s Achievement Award in 2021 from the Sports & Youth Affairs Government of Sindh and Pond’s Miracle Journey goals humbled me, but it also reminded me of the work ahead.

My journey from a player on the Pakistan National Women’s Football Team to the Founder and president of the South Youth Soccer Academy and the General Secretary of the Sindh Women Futsal Association stands as a testament to the enduring impact of sports. My passion for promoting women’s football is unwavering; every girl deserves a chance to pursue her dreams both on and off the field. Through dedication and collaboration, I am determined to leave a legacy inspiring generations to create a world where women’s football thrives and young athletes’ step onto the pitch with boundless confidence.

Synergyzer: How has your volunteering experience at prestigious events like FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and UEFA Euro Women’s Football Championship 2022 shaped your vision for the future of women’s football in Pakistan?

Rukhsar Rashid: Participating in major tournaments like FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and UEFA Euro Women’s Football Championship 2022 as a volunteer showcased football’s global unity and impact. The U.S. Exchange Program in 2019 strengthened my belief in sports’ transformative potential, addressing issues like gender-based violence. The enthusiasm, media coverage, and camaraderie at these tournaments revealed a hunger for women’s football in Pakistan. Networking and learning best practices from other countries have shaped my vision for women’s football’s future. I aspire to establish women’s football in Pakistan with recognition, support, and opportunities. These international experiences reinforce my commitment to breaking barriers, challenging stereotypes, and nurturing young talent. Women’s football isn’t just a game; it’s a platform for empowerment and social change. I’m dedicated to promoting women’s football in Pakistan, knowing each step we take brings us closer to a future where our female athletes shine on the global stage.

Synergyzer: What challenges have you encountered as a female in the male-dominated world of football, and how did you overcome them?

Rukhsar Rashid: In a world where gender norms prevailed, my journey in women’s football was challenging. As the youngest among three brothers and two sisters, I faced societal expectations conflicting with my passion. Being a girl interested in football, I battled stereotypes that questioned my abilities. These biases were barriers I was determined to overcome. Joining a professional football club required a fight. With practice commitments and unreliable transportation, I relied on public transport despite safety concerns. Finding suitable training grounds was tough, often on sandy surfaces and beaches. Societal pressure to prioritize marriage over dreams added hurdles. Traveling for matches was a continuous test with complex logistics and safety concerns. Throughout, government and private support were absent, but my unwavering pillars of strength were my parents and coach, Sadia Sheikh.

My father’s unwavering support (May Allah grant him the highest place in Jannah) was my constant. Challenges arose, but with determination and hard work, I gained recognition in newspapers, bringing pride to my father. An ACL injury tested me, requiring self-funded surgery. Doubts about my physical performance as team captain pushed me. I trained rigorously, incorporating weight training, and excelled. For 13 years, I dedicated myself to nurturing women’s football. My passion, backed by my parents and mentors, Naila Jamall and Sadia Sheikh, equipped me with resilience. Despite struggles, my parents’ support and prayers guided me. With their backing, I’m confident we can elevate women’s football further.

Synergyzer: How does the lack of regular international exposure impact the growth and development of women’s football in Pakistan?

Rukhsar Rashid: The lack of regular international exposure hampers women’s football growth in Pakistan. International engagement is vital for skill, tactics, and style learning. Without it, Pakistani players miss crucial experiences. International exposure aids talent discovery, boosting the talent pool. Matches elevate confidence, inspiring girls to play and fostering growth. It strengthens domestic leagues with global insights. Positive projection on the international stage improves local competitions. Media coverage sparks interest, attracting sponsorships, upgraded facilities, coaching, and resources. Consistent international exposure is pivotal for women’s football progress in Pakistan.

Synergyzer: What are the major challenges that need to be addressed to match the pace of female sports development with the rest of the world, and what steps can be taken to overcome them?

Rukhsar Rashid: Advancing women’s sports globally requires a comprehensive approach. We must start at the grassroots level, offering dedicated facilities, safe transportation, and stipends for female players. Year-round training and merit-based selection are essential. We should focus on gender balance and holistic development, inviting international coaches and supporting female coaches. Proper training for coaches is crucial to meet international standards. Improving women’s competitions is vital, with support from both private and government sectors. Recognizing female athletes as catalysts for progress through media acknowledgement is key. By addressing these aspects comprehensively, we can empower girls and women in sports, ensuring well-rounded growth and equal opportunities for success.

Synergyzer: How do coaching and leadership workshops empower women and girls in sports in Pakistan?

Rukhsar Rashid: Coaching and leadership workshops are potent tools for empowering women and girls in Pakistani sports. They provide essential skills confidence, and challenge gender norms. These workshops enhance proficiency in coaching and leadership, benefiting athletes, coaches, and leaders. They also break down stereotypes, inspiring women to take on leadership roles. Moreover, these workshops offer exposure to diverse cultures, fostering open-mindedness and cross-cultural learning. Participants learn not just from experts but from each other, sharing experiences and ideas. Currently, a few organizations like Right To Play, the U.S. Embassy, and Women Win are actively involved in this effort. I personally experienced this empowerment through the Women Win’s USA Exchange Program, addressing gender-based violence and youth leadership. To drive lasting change, we urgently need more workshops and leadership camps across Pakistan. This collective effort will comprehensively empower women in sports nationwide.

Synergyzer: What advice do you have for young aspiring female footballers in pursuing their dreams and breaking barriers in the world of sports?

Rukhsar Rashid: Hey, amazing young female footballers! Remember FIFA’s “Impossible is Nothing.” With determination, you can achieve anything. Set ambitious goals, work hard, and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. Your passion and dedication are your strengths. Keep pushing forward, give your all on the field, and show the world you’re unstoppable. Your journey is inspiring, and you have what it takes to make it extraordinary!

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Afifa J. Maniar, the Karachi School of Art's design maestro, transforms words into creative works of art. With 25 years of editorial experience across 8 magazines, she runs the world at Synergyzer Magazine as the Editor. Her creativity genius has graced brands like Zellbury, DAWN Media Group, SMASH, Dalda, and IAL Saatchi & Saatchi. Her words and life choices are transformative, however the latter is questionable.