Pakistani and Indian Women Build Bridges Through Soccer

In September, the State Department hosted 20 athletes from India and Pakistan through its exchange program called Sports United, which encompasses fair play principles to build bridges and empowers youth.

The ten-day program offered opportunities for the athletes and coaches to speak with sports management and engage in conflict-resolution workshops. The young women gained access to their counterparts here, as well as nutritionists and sports professionals, including a tour of ESPN studios.

They discussed their challenges and obstacles, shared ideas and provided encouragement for one another. They also attended a professional match with the DC United women's soccer team. Joanna Lohmann of DC United took to twitter to praise the efforts of the young delegates and respectfully noted their challenges.

Most importantly, was the opportunity for the women to train with and engage in healthy activity with women from their neighbouring country.

It is commonly known that India and Pakistan have many socio-cultural, political and religious divides. The differences between the nuclear-armed countries in opinions of history and geo-politics made it almost impossible to get a visa for many years.

There was lack of support for women's soccer in the competing countries, either financially or culturally, and often times efforts were met with resistance. Athletes were not able to compete against each other in regional competitions thus greatly reducing the prospects for proper local competition. Only recently have both nations signed an agreement to warm relations and facilitate border crossing. 

In an interview with The Hindu, 16 year-old Chinta Anjani Rashmitha from India stated: "Before I came here, I didn't have a connection with any of the people [I have met during this trip]. Now, using communication skills that I never knew I had, I have built a relationship with the people of Pakistan via sports. We get closer with soccer, share our ideas, some in common, some with differences, and become better citizens."

Despite cultural differences, backgrounds and language barriers, these women came together, worked hard, trained, observed, learned and played a fantastic amount of soccer.

They now have the tools to go back to their communities and teach, inspire and innovate.

Sports has the ability to bring people together and produce not just great sportsmanship but wonderfully optimistic individuals. These young talented players are no exception.

                                Shireen Ahmed

Shireen Ahmed is a frontline worker in Social Services, writer and footballer living in Toronto.