Meet Pakistan’s top female javelin thrower

“It has been very difficult to explain to people. I have been training for javelin throw since I started sports in school. Before Arshad Nadeem’s Olympic campaign nobody would understand what I have been training for,” Fatima Hussain, a young woman elaborates what it means to be a javelin thrower in Pakistan and that too being a women in the sport. Athletics and all the disciplines that come under it have been hugely neglected in Pakistan. Historically, most of the people have talked about sprint athletes only and hardly anyone talks about the decathlon or heptathlon events. For Fatima, who competes for Wapda in the national events, the first level of her life-long struggle has been to just explain to people what her passion is, because in a cricket-mad country the ones who are not a part of the usual tide are usually left on one side. “I have always trained for and played javelin throw,” Fatima told The Express Tribune. “It would get very difficult at times, because mostly people do not understand. If they did they wouldn’t react very positively. Due to Nadeem’s performance, at least now people understand how the event happens and what the sport is like.” Fatima is based in Faisalabad, a city that has given many athletes to Pakistan and has immense potential for athletics. Nadeem’s breakthrough campaign at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which concluded in August, has been a sigh of relief for many track and field athletes in Pakistan. Nadeem became the first Pakistani in 2019 at the South Asian Games in Nepal to qualify for the Olympics track and field event directly in men’s javelin throw. He later competed at the Games and finished fifth after a stunning performance, despite not receiving the same facilities or coaching as the rest of the international javelin throwers. He qualified for the final and then finished fifth. Fatima hopes to see more support for the track and field athletes in the future, because so far the attention span of the people has been painfully short and the journey for her has been exceedingly challenging. “I started in school,” explains the 23-year-old. “Most people had told me to play cricket or do something else. For some time I didn’t even tell my parents when I picked javelin throw in school.” Fatima, however, says that her school teachers helped her and told her parents too, and there had been other girls who have been keen on pursuing athletics as a career, but not necessarily javelin throw. “I was just curious to know what javelin throw is when I was in school. It must be 2012 till 2013 and then 2014 that I really trained and finally got make my mark at the National Championship in 2016,” said Fatima. Across the board pursuing sports is difficult for women in Pakistan, and Fatima remembers her experience of being even cat-called by men when they would see the girls wearing the running shoes with their gowns. “The society does not make it easy for us, even though I got support at home after a while. But when we go out for training, even when we are wearing our long gowns to keep our dressing modest, men would taunt us on the road and on the way. They would say come run with us, come let’s have a race, when they would see us wearing our running shoes or spikes. It happens and this is a part of what we have to go through, it is not easy, but we carry on,” said Fatima. Fatima has represented Pakistan at the Islamic Solidarity Games in 2017, while on the national circuit she is a top thrower and has five gold medals and multiple silver medals throughout her career since she first made appearance at the national championship in 2016. She is the top player as of the 2019 National Games, where she had a throw of 43.93m in Peshawar, whereas none of the athletes have gotten any competition since November of that year as the Covid-19 restrictions came into place in 2020. In the last championship that was in 2018, she threw 39.13m and still finished at the top, and despite sporadic events to compete in, has been improving. However, she feels that the lack of competitions has been a source of worry for her and other athletes. “We haven’t gotten enough competitions really,” said Fatima as the last event she won and competed in was almost two years ago. “The national record among women in javelin throw is 44.78. I have hit 43.93m so I am improving, but we don’t have enough events to really keep ourselves busy. A proper cycle of the competitions is necessary to improve our form and technique.”

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