“The player welfare should be paramount”, is how the conversation with squash player Noorena Shams started as she became the first active woman squash player to be a part of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Squash Association Executive Committee this month.
The Pakistan sports landscape is changing and maybe the biggest and best change for now is to have active players in the executive committees of the sports bodies, and having their voice heard in policy-making for the first time.
For Shams, as she has been trying to prove her mettle on the squash court, getting the opportunity to take a role in sports management is a new territory. However, it is important step for her, more so as a woman, especially with her activism for the fellow athletes and athletes’ welfare.
“For me, entering into the management sector of sports wasn’t by choice, it just came to me. My career is what I have been testing the most,” Shams told The Express Tribune.
“I have been taking steps to continue my journey in sports. I guess that is what everyone is seeing when I am approached to be a part of their team. I think my struggles are a blessing in disguise. They have brought about qualities that I never knew I had. Balancing both worlds is a learning experience.”
The K-P Squash Association also held elections recently and for all purposes and confirmations, the chairman and Pakistan’s former top player Qamar Zaman feels his recommendation for Shams is a move into the right direction. He believes sports need vocal athletes, especially girls who can motivate others and help run the associations in a better way, given their ability to manage and bring forward the concerns of the players.
“I did nominate her, because we want our girls and players to take part in all aspects of sports. She has the passion to bring change,” Zaman told The Express Tribune.
“I felt that we need young people to run around and help bring to light the concerns of players. I feel our women, as we have four to five others working for the K-P Squash Association, can make a big change for the players. This is a step in the right direction.”
Meanwhile Shams, who has also faced a lot of opposition during her career from different quarters, has expressed her gratitude for the opportunity that has come her way in the form being a member of the K-P Squash Association Executive Committee.
This is the third such committee that Shams will be a part of, a first for a women athlete to simultaneously have places in three bodies that include K-P Squash Association Executive Committee, Pakistan Cycling Association Executive Committee and the Sports Management Committee that was set up by the K-P government.
Fomer K-P Director General Sports and current Deputy Commissioner Swat Junaid Khan agreed that the role of women in decision making in sports is increasing. He pointed out that the K-P Sports Management Committee had Shams in it where the 24-year-old helped with work on squash and athletics, and the government had set up the committee for the first time.
“She was herself an athlete and she had this vision especially for athletics and squash. The committee had the objectives of identifying the talent, setting up academies and helping the athletes on technical matters as well,” said Khan.
Shams feels that the challenges for her to assure her inclusion is not just a placebo, and make sure that she is taken seriously in the role where she is representing the athletes and bringing the concerns of the youth in front of the executive members.
“The biggest challenge I am sure that I will face is to be taken seriously for once. Sitting or sharing a table with big names is not sufficient. I want my service to be beyond the papers, beyond this notification. That will be the bigger fight, and I am hoping for the best,” said Shams.
She has been in the US to improve her game, and she feels in every capacity her biggest goal is to improve the quality of training for the athletes.
“My proposals will be on mental health, international level coaching, physical health, providing safe environment for overall sports community, making competitive sports part of school curriculums and anything that improves the condition of sports,” concluded Shams, stating her objective is players’ and coaches’ welfare and for now she sees the future of Pakistani sports looking good if athletes’ well-being is taken into account.