Women’s sport activist, Ebba Qureshi, is determined to get physical education (PE) recognised as a compulsory school lesson for girls in Pakistan and is using her vast network and experience to play her part in making it happen.

The proud mother of three, and wife of former Pakistan cricket all-rounder, Azhar Mahmood, says she was inspired by her two cricket-playing daughters to get involved in the movement to get more girls active.

Qureshi and Mahmood are the founders of FemGames in Pakistan. It is a UK inspired women empowerment initiative, with an ambitious five-year plan to bring PE into 100 girls’ schools across Pakistan. The aim of the program is to bring quality coaching and implement life skills amongst the girls in schools to compliment their education.

Qureshi wants young girls to give themselves the best shot at success and believes an active lifestyle can contribute to them owning their success. Her vast experience of nearly 20 years in PR, Communications and Events allows her to put her best foot forward for young girls in Pakistan.

She lauds the efforts within Pakistan to power women’s sport forward, with a special mention for Wasim Khan, Pakistan Cricket CEO, who is helping transform women’s cricket.

She tells gsport Editor, Kass Naidoo how she and her husband plan to impact 100 schools in the next five years, gives her thoughts on the growth of women’s sport globally and shares what the world can learn from Pakistan about the promotion of women’s sport.

Ebba, thank you for talking to gsport, it is great to profile you and the work you do. How are you?

I am very well, thank you, considering the unusual circumstances we are going through.

How has Covid-19 impacted you and your family and how are you coping under lockdown?

COVID 19 has had a considerable impact on us, just like everyone else – its changed life totally, but we aren’t complaining as we are safe and well and we are making sure our loved ones are as well by abiding by social distancing discipline and rules. It’s been a challenge but we have all settled in well with what is the new norm with online schooling, spending a lot of time indoors, working from home and most importantly spending a lot of quality time with the family eating, playing games and playing sport in the garden.

Are you able to do any work at all under the circumstances?

Work is a little quiet – so there’s not as much pressure. However I have managed to be productive with other work that I have been passionate about but I wasn’t getting a chance to do.

You are the founder of FemGames along with your husband, former Pakistan cricketer, Azhar Mahmood. What is the purpose of this initiative?

I have two daughters, 14 and 8. They both play competitive cricket – My eldest for Under 14’s Surrey county and the younger one plays club cricket. The incredible development I saw in my girls, compelled me to do something meaningful for girls who do not have opportunities and the support to use sport as an accelerator in their lives.

Hence I founded and am the CEO of FemGames and Azhar is the Director of programs. It’s a UK inspired sports initiative and its purpose is to empower women/girls through sport. Targeting girl’s school across Pakistan and now the UK, it is a curriculum which is implemented in their PE lesson – highlighting the importance of Life skills, Leadership qualities, team building skills and most importantly health and fitness through sport.

What have been some of the initiative’s major highlights since it launched?

The response!! From the girls… their excited faces during the sessions and their anticipation for the next session! These girls haven’t had a structured PE lesson, which is so engaging, competitive and fun! I receive messages from school teachers, students, telling us how they have enjoyed themselves and continue to use some of the warm up drills and game.

Then subsequently the overall response from the schools, The female sports personalities, the government, the media and the private sector has been overwhelming.

What are some of the gaps you have noticed in women’s sport where you hope FemGames will play a leading role?

Not enough competitive tournaments being played between girls schools. FemGames would like to close that gap and encourage more tournaments to enhance leadership & team building skills amongst the girls, health and fitness to endorse the active and healthy lifestyle women imperatively need.

However, the one of the biggest and notable gap is the quality and frequency of sports lessons in schools. Especially schools in under privileged areas, PE is seen as a spare period, one that is given no importance.

How much has your PR and marketing background help you in your role as Founder of Fem Games?

Immensely. In order to create this passion into a brand and then market the idea and concept to stakeholders etc  – needed my marketing and PR skills to come in to action diligently and effectively.

How can we get more young girls to participate in sport?

By advocating for it and providing good quality PE lessons at school  is key. Creating more opportunities for them then to participate regularly and making it safer and more accessible. Using current female sports stars as heroes and using them as success stories. Showing off female world leaders who have had some form of sport in their life that shaped them into the individual they are.

How do you feel about the state of women’s sport globally and what can be done to improve it?

It’s much more improved now than it was in the last 10 years. We haven’t heard of so many sporting female heroes than we have now. So many leading ladies, not just on the field, but also working behind the scenes in sport , such as female coaches, owners of franchise teams (Mumbai Indians owned by Mrs Ambani) , Yourself Kass in the world of hosting large cricket events, etc. Tennis stars such as Serena etc…So things are slowly changing and for the better. However, we still have a long way to go. Women sports need to be able to attract crowds, sponsorships and attention like the men’s tournaments do. In order to gauge appetite for this we need to make it competitive, shown more on TV and more so that more schools and families attend these tournaments.

This is up to governing bodies and schools to make PE imperative and compulsory at all stages of school life. It should become a pre-requisite for university courses and perhaps even for getting a job! This is how we will be able to make more female world leaders and well rounded, confident women.

Recently the ICC has played a huge part in promoting The Women’s T20 cricket world cup. The FA have really stepped up in the last 18 months in promoting Women’s Football.

What can the rest of the world learn from Pakistan about the promotion of women’s sport there?

Pakistan has recently begun to promote female sports stars and especially the women’s cricket team. Thanks to a new refreshing think tank like Wasim Khan (CEO & MD of the PCB) we have seen a positive change in the accessibility and exhibition of women’s games on TV and online.

The promotion and endorsement of this has resulted in everyone knowing of and becoming familiar with a household name: Sana MIR.

Other countries could learn that that even with cultural barriers we have made heroes such as Sana Mir – who is a global female sports brand! She’s played with integrity, great success and is an inspiring individual. Someone like Sana represents the importance of sport in shaping her life, character building and confidence.

Who are your favourite sportswomen and why?

Sania Mirza and Sana Mir – hands down. There a few more but these two are definitely my favourites. Perhaps I’m biased because I know them but having followed their journey and seen their passion for their work and how they manage cultural challenges and yet still overcome them coming out as heroes is applaudable.

What is your advice to young women who want to be sporting superstars?

Go for it! Follow your dream, just work hard and be stay disciplined. Playing a sport and then wanting to become a superstar are two different things. It is a long hard journey but I’m sure as we can see – so worth it. Set yourself goals and aspire to inspire other women to play a sport to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.

How do you and Azhar balance work and family life, especially with children to take care of?

We are blessed to have family around us and home help. However, we have become used to this way of life and cherish the moments when Azhar is home! My travelling for work has also increased as a result of FemGames – which is why I have had to really manage the help and support I can get around me.

What is your greatest contribution you would like to make to sport?

FemGames to become a compulsory PE session, which in turn provides a well-structured PE lesson in girl’s schools, which then produces well rounded and more confident women with incredible life skills and ambition to become the best they can. Whether it’s to pursue a professional sport, running their own business, even staying at home – FemGames to have a huge influence in their lives would be my dream contribution.

 

 

Photo 1 Caption: Women’s sport activist, Ebba Qureshi, is determined to get physical education (PE) recognised as a compulsory school lesson for girls in Pakistan and is using her vast network and experience to play her part in making it happen. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption:
The proud mother of two, and wife of former Pakistan cricket all-rounder, Azhar Mahmood, says she was inspired by her two cricket-playing daughters to get involved in the movement to get more girls active. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption:
Qureshi and Mahmood are the founders of FemGames in Pakistan. It is a UK inspired women empowerment initiative, with an ambitious five-year plan to bring PE into 100 girls’ schools across Pakistan. The aim of the program is to bring quality coaching and implement life skills amongst the girls in schools to compliment their education. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 Caption:
Qureshi wants young girls to give themselves the best shot at success and believes an active lifestyle can contribute to them owning their success. Her vast experience of nearly 20 years in PR, Communications and Events allows her to put her best foot forward for young girls in Pakistan. Photo: Supplied
Photo 5 Caption:
She lauds the efforts within Pakistan to power women’s sport forward, with a special mention for Wasim Khan, Pakistan Cricket CEO, who is helping transform women’s cricket. Photo: Supplied