Shahlyla Ahmadzai Baloch
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Shahlyla Ahmadzai Baloch was one of the first Pakistani female football players to be signed by an international club.
Baloch became the first Pakistani woman to score a hat-trick abroad during her stint in Maldives.
Date of birth 12 March 1996
Place of birth Quetta, Pakistan
Date of death 13 October 2016 (aged 20)
Place of death Karachi, Pakistan
She was the daughter of Pakistani Rubina Irfan and the sister of Balochistan United and National team manager Raheela Zarmeen. , She was the daughter of Ex Senator and women's football President Rubina Irfan and grand Daughter of Khan of Kalat.
For Shahlyla Ahmadzai Baloch, hailing from a family of affluent politicians from Balochistan, football may have been at first, a luxurious life-choice but soon Shahlyla was charting her own course. Alongwith her older sisters, she was soon seen as a pioneering symbol for breaking gender stereotypes in Pakistan society and sport, spurring on many young girls to take to the game.
As a footballer, Shahlyla had many firsts to her name. In 2005, aged just nine, she became the youngest Pakistani player to feature in the Women's Football Championship when she turned out for Balochistan United a club founded and funded by her mother, Rubina Irfan who is also the chairperson of the Pakistan Football Federation's women's wing.
Yet, the Pakistan striker's impact reached well beyond the football pitch. “She was more than just a footballer,“ Tariq Lutfi, head coach of the Pakistan women's team, said on Thursday . “She was a sign of hope for the women in the country . She was a sign of a progressive Pakistan where women could do anything men could do, including playing football.“
Indian women footballers will remember the semifinal of the 2010 SAARC Women's Football Championship in Cox's Bazaar, an 8-0 verdict for Bembem and Co., but a game which featured a slightly-built but determined 14-year-old Shahlyla in the Pakistan ranks. “She was very small when she started so she was pushed around by the older players of opposing teams,“ mother Rubina recalled in an interview in 2014, “But she had amazing determination. She would get up and carry on even if she was hurt.
“But I had to induct her in the team. I had to take the first step. I had to encourage people in Pakistan to allow their daughters to play football.“
Shahlyla was the youngest of three sisters, and elder siblings, Raheela and Sohaila were also part of the Balochistan United team.
The induction of tiny Shahlyla saw interest in women's football grow.More women came out to play with players emerging from the far-flung areas of Gilgit-Baltistan going on to represent the national women's team.
While the urban centres predictably viewed the rise of Pakistani women's football through their own prism the internet and social media age recognizing most Pakistani women footballers more for their looks than their skills, Shahlyla was keen to prove she was more than just good looks. Her goal-scoring skills saw her earn a contract with Maldives' Sun Hotel and Resorts FC last year.
The pocket-sized dynamo idolized Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi and she tried to emulate their playing style. Cutting inside from the wing, her low centre of gravity and swift feet would see her leave her opponents in a daze. “I gave her the title of `Pakistani Maradona' because she was that good,“ remembers Lutfi. “She was an excellent dribbler and an equally good finisher. Her vision of the game was remarkable.“
So good she was that Shahlyla was inducted into the national team at the age of 14. “It's my dream to win an international title for Pakistan,“ Shahlayla said after Pakistan's second successive group stage exit in the 2014 SAFF Women's Championship in Islamabad.
It was a dream unfulfilled. But Shahlayla gave so much more to the country . She left behind a legacy. She inspired the women of the country to follow their dreams of playing football. To think, she was only 20.
Shahlayla, who died in a car crash in Karachi in the early hours of Thursday morning in Oct 2016, was inarguably the best woman footballer Pakistan has produced. She was only 20.
(Umaid Wasim is a Karachi-based sportswriter for Dawn newspaper)