Talented veteran sports producer Shahida Shoaib is the current holder of the national Best Sports Producer Award. Her eventful career includes successfully covering the Karachi to Thar Car Rally, a Malakhra in the midst of 500 pehalwans and having her hand mauled by a lion .
Producing sports programmes for television, especially PTV, has been a traditional male preserve involving erratic and very long working hours. However, the title of Best Sports Producer, at PTV is currently held by Shahida Shoaib, a female with tenacity and true grit, who holds the fort at the channel as its in-charge producer sports, leading the men in their own field as it were.
This is the second time that PTV has bestowed this prestigious award upon her, and she received it for her 2006 documentary on Pakistan’s oldest surviving Olympian Feroz Khan who saw action in 1928. The subjects of her documentaries have included the snooker champion M. Yusuf and squash champion Jahangir Khan.
Shoaib has successfully handled the daunting logistics of covering the Karachi to Thar Car Rally in which she promoted the tourist sites along the way. In her career she has even had her hand mauled by a lion while filming in a private zoo. As a result she contracted gangrene and came close to having her hand amputated. Fortunately her wounds healed which she attributes to the prayers of her family and friends. The lion was not so lucky, having swallowed her diamond, and died in due course.
Shahida Shoaib has covered cricket extensively at first class and test levels, including the women’s international fixtures. She has done golf live when the Asian Tour visited Karachi, putting Pakistan on the world map. The 1992 hockey Champions Trophy is to her credit as well, when she introduced the use of computer graphics during live coverage. Her sports talk shows have included the five legendary Mohammad brothers together in discussion about their cricketing lives.
She also brought Jahangir and Jansher together with the Pakistan Squash Federation’s officialdom in a rare programme with a free and frank discussion on what ails Pakistan’s squash effort. All these programmes have also served to increase her considerable store of knowledge about various sports. She is saddened by the fact that the sports heroes of today have become too focused on the commercial side, and want to be paid before allowing themselves to be interviewed.
Right from her college days Shahida Shoaib has been an achiever, and in her efforts she has had the unstinted support of first her parents, and then her husband. She has captained the Pakistan university’s hockey, basketball and badminton teams, as well as the Karachi University in these three games.
“I put in a lot of effort and learnt through trial and error,” says Shoaib, who laments the absence of facilities, tutors and mentors in her life, with which she feels she could have gone much further. “Had I been properly coached and maintained my focus on just one sport, I could have become the international player in that particular game.”
Shahida Shoaib used to be the only girl playing basketball with the Jordanian boys in the university gymnasium, and regularly travelled to the Islamia Club to play basketball, practicing for three to four hours every day. She would put in many hours commuting to and fro on foot, since there were no buses servicing this area at that time. That kind of commitment is difficult to find amongst the youth today.
“There was much more intergenerational trust and confidence, and the general level of love and tolerance in society was much higher,” feels Shoaib. “Today sincerity is difficult to come by, but there are still people who are doing their bit. Talib sahib has been making a big contribution by training our athletes without any hope of compensation. Dr Mohammed Ali Shah is another Good Samaritan who has poured his personal fortune into promoting sports. I am sure there are a lot of such people who prefer to keep a low profile. One has to look for them,” says Shoaib.
The cultural dilemma remains a major impediment to the development of women’s sport in Pakistan to any appreciable international level, and Pakistani girls who wish to make their mark would have to relocate overseas to more liberal climes.
As a talented veteran sports producer Shahida Shoaib has never distinguished between male and female sports. She has succeeded in an open field, and is the current holder of the national Best Sports Producer Award that does not take cognisance of gender. She adds, “I have covered events in places where the presence of women was unthinkable!”
She covered Malakhra in Sehwan Sharif, working in the midst of 500 pehalwans. “I had no problems whatsoever, and received the courtesy and respect due to a professional.” She says that PTV can take the credit for introducing programmes on physical fitness when it started its morning transmission in the late eighties. Shahida Shoaib produced over 1,000 programmes on fitness that ran over a ten years period.
Shoaib is the third eldest amongst four brothers and three sisters. Born in Karachi, she attended HBH School on Bunder Road and the Home Economics College before joining the Karachi University for her BA Honours and MA in political science. Then she did her Bachelors in physical education, also from KU, and obtained a black belt in karate alongside.
The Ministry of Sports provided her with a scholarship to do her Masters in sports and physical education from Gomal University in the ultra conservative city of Dera Ismail Khan as a regular student. She admits to it being a very tough time of her life, but she was determined and adamant, and acquired her MSC in 1984. Just prior to her results she had joined PTV, having pioneered the sports departments at some of the leading private schools, all the while playing basketball and hockey competitively at club level.
In the school, college and university systems, physical education has been relegated to an inconsequential status, says Shahida. “A grave injustice has been perpetrated upon our youth. Physical education is equated with physical training, and the attitude of faculty and management towards physical training instructors is deplorable and seen as a waste of time. How can students develop well rounded personalities?” she asks.
Shahida Shoaib mentions the Sindh University that has set a fine example for the others where Dr Yasmin Iqbal is Pakistan’s first professor in physical education, and has set up a very successful department offering post graduate studies in the subject.
“There is a girl named Marium Kherio belonging to Mirpurkhas who has won a fistful of medals at the national games, and has represented Pakistan at the World University Games in Bangkok. Her father made her practice, and fortunately she came to the attention of Dr Yasmin Iqbal who groomed Kherio to the next higher levels. What we need is many more Yasmins if women’s sports are to be promoted. We have plenty of raw talent but we are lacking mentors.”
Nowadays, while the government funded facilities have improved vastly, the standards and general interest in sports has fallen, she says. “Except for cricket, whose mass appeal has devoured interest in all other sports.”
Amongst women’s sports receiving particular attention today, Shoaib cites soccer and cricket where there is proactivism on display and planned activities are generated on a regular basis both at the national and regional levels.
“Athletics, regarded as the mother of all sports, has been given the short shrift. This is difficult to understand, especially since the nature of athletics lends itself for mass participation at very little or no cost. Also athletic proficiency is a prerequisite for all sports. No matter which game it is, all players need to develop physical fitness and stamina, and this is done on the track and field. Our players, both male and female, are tremendously gifted naturally where understanding and perfecting technique is concerned, but they fail to go the distance due to poor fitness, especially girls,” explains Shoaib.
On the national front Shahida Shoaib feels it is imperative that women’s sports have their own governing bodies and federations, as opposed to existing as ‘wings’ of the national federations catering predominantly to the promotion of male sports, and taking a lighter view of their women’s wings that they regularly clip.
“There is no work that women cannot do, be it technical, management, or marketing. Complete male dominance has stunted female growth. If women functionaries feel they need help then men can be taken on board as advisors, but they must have the mindset of expeditors, not controllers. Women must run their own federations,” she says.
How does one cope with the conservative culture of the country that frowns upon female athleticism in public? Would it be perhaps a bit foolhardy to hope for a Sania Mirza emerging from the ranks of Pakistan’s tennis fraternity? Mirza wears a skirt, and has stirred up quite a storm amongst Indian Muslims. Shoaib admits that during her hockey playing days there was a fair amount of criticism about the tracksuit pants and shirts that the girls wore while on the field. She optimistically says that today people are more broad-minded, and the matter of dress is not such a big issue anymore.
The cultural dilemma, however, remains a major impediment to the development of women’s sport in Pakistan to any appreciable international level, and Pakistani girls who wish to make their mark would have to relocate overseas to more liberal climes.
The cultural issues are far less pronounced if sports are seen as a route to physical fitness with a view to enhancing the brainpower of females in the school and college systems. Healthy bodies make for healthy minds is the rationale behind extracurricular activity. This has sadly gone missing as school and college faculties and facilities fail to cope with the geometric rise in the number of students.
Shahida Shoaib, meanwhile, is out there documenting the action on the ground irrespective of its gender, and pondering the best way forward in an operating environment that is daunting for most females.