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KARACHI: The batter swung the bat with all her might, sending the ball flying out of Karachi’s Kokan Park, hitting for six the taboo that only men can venture into the night during Ramadan to play cricket.
The scene was the final match of Khelo Khavateen, which stands for “Play Women”, a women’s night cricket tournament in the Pakistani megalopolis which culminated this week.
In the bustling port city each Ramadan, while devotees fast during the day, at night they take to the streets to play cricket. For years, however, street matches and tournaments were dominated by men.
Karachi-based journalist Hadeel Obaid wanted to change this trend and in 2015 came up with the idea of a platform where women could also play cricket safely late at night during Ramadan. Khelo Kricket (Play Cricket) was born, an online startup that promotes sports to Pakistani women.
A year later, Obaid launched the Khelo Khavateen Night Tournament, which has since seen hundreds of girls sign up to play night cricket during Ramadan. A few participants even played for the women’s national team.
“No one has experimented with the idea that women too are interested in coming to play cricket at night,” Obaid told Arab News after the final of the Ramadan tournament, held this year after a two-day hiatus. years of COVID-19. . “We wanted to create a safe space for girls to play cricket.”
But launching a successful women’s cricket tournament in Pakistan was not easy, said Obaid, who faced criticism because the idea of women playing cricket late at night – and that also during the holy month of Ramadan – was not welcomed by many. people.
“When you start something for the first time, it’s always difficult because change is something nobody likes,” she said.
“When nothing has happened for so many years, and suddenly someone wants to try to do something new, you always face a little backlash,” she said.
But Obaid shrugged off the negativity and over time she saw firsthand how families and communities embraced the initiative, which became a launching pad for professional gamers.
Last week, Pakistani cricketer Fatima Sana received the 2021 Emerging Cricketer of the Year award from the International Cricket Council, becoming the first Pakistani woman to win the honour. Sana launched her career at the Khelo Khavateen tournament in 2016, the first edition of the series.
“She was 12 or 13 when she played our very first tournament,” recalls Obaid. “At that time, she had incredible talent. We had never seen a bowler like that.
Renowned Pakistani cricket commentator, TV host and former cricketer Urooj Mumtaz called the Khelo Kricket initiative “wonderful”.
“We all love to play cricket during Ramadan,” she said. “It’s not just for men. It’s also now (increasingly) with the girls… It’s more about hobbies and attracting more girls to sports.
Obaid said she had planned to hold the tournament in other cities in Pakistan, but the COVID-19 pandemic had thrown a wrench in the works. Now, however, with an improving health situation, she hopes to revive her plans.
“We have a lot of people from Rawalpindi writing to us and telling us that they would like the tournament to be played in the city. We have a lot of girls from Lahore writing,” Obaid said. there, maybe not during Ramadan, but maybe at some time of the year.
“We hope that in 2023 and 2024 we can maintain the momentum and really develop it.”