The arena of sports opportunities for women in Pakistan is limited, but there is hope. One such rising star is Moqaddas Ashraf who, albeit struggling, already has some significant laurels to her name.
The passion for the sport began in 2003. “Basically, there was a sports event at my school where they had a Squash Camp and I played Squash there for the first time and fell in love with the game,” recalls Moqaddas. “I was the first one to start playing squash, my younger sister then followed me.”
She also praises Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan as huge inspirations, watching their matches on TV and aspiring to be like them one day.
From there, the longing and ambition simply grew more and more.
On being asked about the barriers and challenges she has faced as a beginner, she explains, often I am criticized by a few of my family members, especially when we used to go out for training and practice, but my father’s support, him standing by my side got me through the criticism. All girls / women face limitations in being part of things that are assumed as manly or only for males. That is a taboo many have tried to break, but its deep in our culture.”
Talking about her achievements, Moqaddas proudly states, “my biggest achievement has been representing Pakistan in all major International occasions / tournaments, including World Junior, Asian Junior, Asian Senior and SAF Games. I won medals for my performance too.”
She continues, “my present world (global) ranking in Squash is 91 (2017 to 2019) and my previous best was 235. My National ranking is 1 and previous was 25. I achieved all this because of my father’s support. Now he is no more.” After his passing, Moqaddas began training in Iran. “I worked there for three years. I saved that money and spent it on entering the international tournaments that I have been a part of till date. Also, I paid for my training and achieved this position in the world and Pakistan.”
Speaking about being a sportswoman in our culture, Moqaddas elaborates, “I did confront issues while practicing abroad. But like every other girl in our society who wants to pursue sports as a profession, I had to overcome my fears of the society and culture, and focus on the game.”
Here, Moqaddas is quick to mention the Punjab Squash Association, Pakistan Squash Federation and Wapda in helping her develop her career. “They particularly helped me get free coaching and free training. I do feel there were couple of areas where I could’ve gotten more help. I need support and constant sponsors who can help me financially with further developing my career as an Ambassador for Pakistan. Also, to help me travel abroad and participate in international tournaments as to improve my world ranking.”
The financial constraints are certainly an issue. “In all these years, I have bought the gear, the international level accessories, but I cannot afford the miscellaneous expenses, especially International airfare, lodging and equipment without a sponsor. In Pakistan, as we all know, getting a sponsor for a sport other than cricket is next to impossible.”
On a brighter note, Moqaddas tells her current inspiration is Nicol David (world ranking number one for the last ten years). She also adds, “The best thing about being a sportswomen in Pakistan is that you have national legends to look up too and to get inspiration from. It is a nation full of talented sportsmen and sportswomen. As mentioned earlier, we do not have enough monetary benefits which is de-motivating for the players, plus we also face VISA issues as Pakistani nationals. If we sort out our financial issues, we can easily become world leaders in Squash again.”
Moqaddas’s message to women pursuing a career in sports is to venture forth, undeterred. “I feel as a woman we need to come forward and play our role in bringing Pakistan at the top. We need to strive for equality.”
As for the future Moqaddas wishes to participate in London Open beginning 2nd November, 2019. She tells us, “I would like to improve my ranking and to do that I need financial support to participate. It will help me to improve my ranking along with getting good results and expenses to play with top players.”
Here’s hoping there’s much more to follow on this talented young lady’s story.