• 23 Jun - 29 Jun, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

There was never really any doubt that football is the main sport in these islands and therefore the excitement over the football World Cup in Russia is quite understandable and only to be expected. Yet this time around, it does not seem to have reached quite the peak that it has in days gone by.

One very obvious reason for this is that England’s chances of winning are about at par with Karachi experiencing a sudden and heavy snowfall as you read this. For the past fifty years – in fact, ever since England actually won the World Cup staged in England in 1966 – the media has been guilty of producing an expectation during every single World Cup that England was a serious contender for the Cup. Over half a century and a dozen World Cups that has been found to be slightly less than accurate and this time around, as a very young England squad represents the country, the expectations are rather more realistic.

Equally responsible for the more sombre mood in England concerning the World Cup is the fact that it is taking place in Russia, a country with which British relations hit a startling low after the alleged Russian poisoning of a former Russian spy who had been brought over to Britain as part of a spy exchange deal. Britain was furious and diplomats were withdrawn and although that is standard procedure for the diplomatic world, it left a pretty bad taste in the mouth. The Russians wanted to see the evidence based on which the accusations against them were made but Britain did not agree to that.

The result of all that was an apprehension that British soccer fans, famed for their destructive power the world over, would be allowed no leeway as given the recent background of relations between the two countries, it is hugely unlikely that the Russians would be in a mood to take any nonsense from fans who stepped out of line. That has the potential of a further deterioration in relations for whenever British football fans have stepped out of line, - and quite often they have obliterated the line altogether - there is a section of the media that will paint it as innocent fans being victimised. This time around, with sympathy for Russia virtually non-existent, that sort of media coverage in case of an incident seems more likely. Again, the chances of an incident increase in direct proportion to the chances of a poor team performance, so all in all, the chances of a ruckus can be rated as ranging from good to bright.

Women’s cricket takes the lead

Yet, in this sea of football, cricket, the South Asian sport, has raised its head in a very pleasing way.

Over the recent past, since the England’s women’s team won the women’s cricket world cup, women’s cricket has been given much exposure in the British electronic and print media. To give an example, Pakistan’s T20 encounter against Scotland was not televised at all while an ODI match of the England women’s team against South Africa played on the same day, was covered on three different channels. And as English women’s cricket has prospered, the question about south Asian women’s participation in the game has been raised. It is nowhere near the level it should be and what representation there is in the England women’s team from south Asia has been from Indian migrants to the UK. In fact, stats show that less than 21 per cent of Asian girls and women take active part in regular sport, which is much less than that of other ethnic groups. There are a couple of reasons for this. Cricket coaching facilities for girls are few and far between for everyone. But for Pakistani girls, who are almost all Muslims, the facilities are even harder to avail because most coaching classes – in fact, most extra-curricular activities – usually take place from around 4 to 6 pm as schools finish around 3:15 or 3:30 pm. Now for Muslim children, girls certainly included, this is the time they go the local mosque for their Quranic classes; secondly, most of the coaching classes are conducted by men and Muslim parents generally are not happy for their girls to the supervised by men in a physical activity.

It is to fill this gap that a lady called Nafeesa Katib stepped in. Nafeesa’s love for cricket was created in Pakistan and she brought it over with her as a young girl when her family migrated to the UK. Now 41 and the mother of two children, she is trying to create an opportunity for girls aged 8 to 14 by running her own coaching classes. It is a small beginning in a small town called Oadby in Leicestershire, but it is a beginning and Nafeesa’s 9-year-old daughter has an opportunity that her mother did not have.

It is quite possible that Nafeesa’s initiative may not get too far. But it is this spirit of getting up and doing something rather than waiting for someone else to come along and solve the problem that one would like to see much more of from the British Pakistani community. Nafeesa is emphatic in her belief that a hijab is not an impediment to achieving anything if one sets one’s mind to it and it is that sort of faith that wins friends and influences people out here in the West. •