Kashif Bouns sat down one day and came up with an ambitious plan.
“Why don’t I put together a football team, made up of Pakistani women who have never played the game before and let’s enter them into The International Cup competition at the home of Australian Football and send them over to play in Melbourne, Australia”.
Let’s make sure they have never even held an Australian Rules Football, never seen a game, had no idea of the rules, had never been to Australia and let’s bring this miss-matched bunch of soccer, hockey, badminton and chess players together to create their own history and identity in Women’s International Football.
This is no fantasy or movie plot, this is a true story of courage, persistence, faith and belief.
Bouns is the founding Director of the Melbourne Based Pakistan Shaheens Sporting and Social Club. He also works as the Multicultural Officer for the 2016 AFL Premiers Western Bulldogs.
He had a dream, a vision, a determination; one that began back in 2013, with the aim of providing meaningful engagement opportunities using sports and other social activities as vehicles of social inclusion and cohesion.
Bouns roped in Syed Ariz, Wassim Rafihi and Coach Michael Gallus, who, together made history with the first ever Pakistan Women’s Football team in the International Cup.
Flashback to 2014, when the Pakistan Shaheens Men’s team took to the field for the first time in the International Cup with much success, sparking the idea to expand the Shaheen’s Sport and Social Club to both genders.
By 2017, this dream became a reality.
So how did they do it?
Given little time after the AFL’s approval for a female Pakistani team, Bouns and his crew took only two months to form a squad of 25 who were ready to play AFL.
Bouns explained how they ‘reached out to the community [in Pakistan]’ and invited girls to come and be a part of the female team.
There were initial try-outs in Pakistan, which were narrowed down, bringing the squad to Melbourne where they were to get an understanding of the game and where they would be playing, position wise.
The best part? None of the girls had prior AFL experience meaning the squad was decided on the pure passion and determination of the women.
But, this initiative wasn’t easy. Many of the women faced community pressure against the game, due to the oppression of females in sport in Pakistan and the genuine fear of injury.
Head Coach Michael Gallus, who has been a junior male coach of football at the school and community level for 20 years and has coached daughter Lily and her friends at East Keilor FC U15 and PEGSFC U18, explained how they had ‘watched their brothers, fathers, uncles and heroes play AFL,’ but oppression had never allowed them to have a go at what was labelled as predominantly a ‘male sport’.
But now, it was finally their time to break away and create their own history, with Gallus telling tales of inspiration, no matter the result or physicality of the games.
The girls did not win a game in the International Cup, however the enjoyment with rivals and each other was evident.
“They would sing and dance with their opponents, just so happy to have the opportunity to be in Australia playing AFL.”
“They had a totally innocent perspective about the game and its long-held traditions which was so refreshing to be around.” Gallus stated of the girls’ eagerness, on and off the field.
The 25 girls and their coaching staff who travelled to the home of AFL ought to be proud of their efforts and the respect shown for traditions of Australian Rules.
However, they should be most proud of starting their own traditions and building a legacy for the Pakistan women to come.
The legacy left here will forever ring true to Nelson Mandela’s words: sport is more powerful than race, religion or governments in breaking down barriers across cultures.