Wednesday 12 August 2020, 06:33

Pakistan's Haider making her dreams come true

  • Abiha Haider named in list of ‘30 Most Powerful Muslim Women In Sports’

  • Recognition for Muslim women positively influencing the sports industry

  • Haider has played in the national team of her homeland Pakistan since 2010

Anyone looking to get their name in the Guinness Book of Records generally has to do so either via achieving the extraordinary, having crazy ideas or performing the most daring of stunts. Not an easy task, however you look at it.

Nevertheless, Abiha Haider already has two entries for participating in a football match that lasted 69 hours during the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. The game, which took place in Lyon and involved 807 players, was organised by Equal Playing Field, a non-profit institute dedicated to empowering women in sport.

That is just one of a number of the 24-year-old’s impressive achievements. Haider made her debut in the Pakistan women’s national team in 2010 when she was just 13-and-a-half, and ten years later was included on the list of the ‘30 Most Powerful Muslim Women In Sports’, which honours inspirational Muslim women who positively influence the sports industry at various levels.

“It was an amazing feeling when I read the article,” Haider told of the moment she discovered she was on the power list, which provides a platform for the global community of Muslim women in sport.

“I come from Pakistan and when I was growing up playing football I didn’t have many role models – in fact no role models at all in football,” she continued. “When I started playing in 2009, the game was still very much in a developmental stage.

"I promised myself that I would develop myself and build up my own personality in a way that youngsters could look up to me, that parents and families could look up to me and be certain that if a person like me is in football, that it means it’s safe for girls. I always wanted to give out that message, basing it on my own experience, my own character and my own ability, that when I am playing football it means football is safe.”

Yet the road to becoming one of the most influential Muslim women in sport was a long and difficult one for Haider, who had to break with stereotypes and fight for her dream every single day.

“In Pakistan we live in a male-dominated society and football for girls is a big no-no,” said the midfielder. “My family supported me a lot, which was one of my major blessings. But my extended family showed a lot of reservations when they found out I was going on to the football field and obviously wearing shorts or trousers. They couldn't imagine it and argued that I would neglect my education, for example, or that I would fall into the wrong hands and that I would leave my family.”

Haider managed to defuse such concerns when one of her biggest dreams came true in 2010: “When I played for the Pakistan national team, and I was the youngest player ever at just 13.5 years old, it was a major breakthrough. When I came back to Pakistan all the people who had criticised me for playing football expressed how proud they were of me and started introducing me as their family member.”

Abiha Haider (Pakistan)

For Haider it is important to live up to her status as a role model and to give something back to the society and country that have given her so much love, honour and dignity. Sport has changed her life in many ways, given her self-confidence and taught her how to deal with any situation, be it positive or negative.

“Before I started playing football I was very shy and couldn’t make a speech,” she said. “But thanks to football I was able to gain all that confidence and I have given speeches in front of 40,000 to 50,000 people. Sports give you the confidence to say ‘no’ and to confront people who try to use you or put you in a horrible position.”

Now the Pakistan international is on the verge of making her second big dream come true: she recently sat her final law exams at the University of London and is now waiting for her results.

“My third and biggest dream is to establish a football academy for underprivileged girls. I want to give them all the resources and opportunities I was given in my childhood to play sports, which is something I’ve loved immensely. Unfortunately, the coronavirus created some setbacks. I was working on it in February and March and I had completed all the paper work, but because of the outbreak a lot of my plans have been disrupted. I’m waiting for things to clear up a bit so that I can fulfil my third dream as well.”

This article is part of our 'Women in Football' series, in which we offer a different behind-the-scenes look at some of the chief protagonists of the women’s game. Next week we'll be featuring Edina Alves.

Abiha Haider (Pakistan)