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JACOBABAD: When Erum Baloch’s hopes of becoming a professional hockey player were dashed by social norms, she began to dream even bigger and promised to create an environment where other girls’ dreams could come true.

For many girls in Jacobabad, a city of 200,000 in a poor rural area of ​​Sindh province in southern Pakistan, sport remains a taboo and a source of stigma.

“It was very difficult for me to continue,” Baloch told Arab News. “Girls couldn’t play sports.”

But in 2017, when she was just 23, Baloch established the Stars Women Hockey Academy Jacobabad. The club she and her friends founded with their own savings was the region’s first women’s academy.

“It became my dream to establish a hockey academy, so that girls who wanted to play wouldn’t end up in situations like the ones I faced,” Baloch said.

Orphaned by her father at the age of four and having lost her only brother in a bomb explosion in 2015, Baloch found all the support of her mother, Asifa Begum, who enabled her to pursue her dream of childhood in hopes that it might heal his trauma. .

“My son’s death was a tragedy for the whole family. One way for Erum to cope was to focus on his childhood dream of running a hockey club,” Begum said.

“Despite pressure from extended family and friends, I let her do whatever she wanted.”

The girls spend their own savings on the club, but have recently started receiving small donations to run the academy. (Provided)

At first it was not easy.

“People weren’t mentally prepared for the way the girls play, so they started creating obstacles. Many also threatened us. But we didn’t stop,” Baloch said.

The girls struggled to find a pitch, but were eventually allowed to play at a girls’ college sports pitch.

They still spend their own savings on the club, but have recently started receiving small donations to run the academy.

Eighteen of their players have competed in provincial and national level tournaments, including 21-year-old Nabeela Bhayo, one of the club’s co-founding members, who now plays for the Sindh provincial hockey team as a goalkeeper. goal.

Bhayo is also one of four female hockey players from Jacobabad who were admitted to study at Punjab University as part of her athletic quota in 2019 and graduated with her Masters in Commerce.

“People back home are so conservative that they object to us wearing sport pants and shirts,” she told Arab News. “I am grateful that my family supports me.”

Bhayo’s biggest supporter is her father, Nabeel Bhayo, who says it is an honor for his daughter to represent Jacobabad nationally.

He also pleaded with other parents to let their daughters play sports and achieve something in their lives.

“Jacobabad is a very conservative region,” he said. “My daughter and her club members are breaking the taboo.”


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