Are matches in Pakistan still events only men can comfortably go to?
Cricket is huge in Pakistan. All of us grew up watching all the matches, whether they are the World Cup or regular Test matches, although a lot of us families tend to watch them at home because we’ve always known that going to the matches themselves is insane khawari and no woman wants to put herself in a position where she’s in a huge crowd of men, because we’ve been there far too many times people don’t keep their hands to themselves.
This ^ has been true for decades, it’s sad because it excludes half the population from experiencing what it’s like to actually see a match live – straight from the stadium itself.
March 2009, the Sri Lankan cricket team was in Pakistan for a test match when they were attacked by 12 terrorists near Gaddafi Stadium Lahore. This attack injured 6 of the Sri Lankan players, 2 staff and 1 reserve umpire. 6 Pakistani Police officers and 2 civilians lost their lives.
Pakistan hasn’t held a test match ever since. For a whole decade, our country was too dangerous to invite any international players. We’ve been playing most of our home test matches in the United Arab Emirates.
In December 2019, exactly 10 years after the attack, the Sri Lankan cricket team agreed to come to Pakistan for 2 test matches. They were the last team to visit Pakistan for a test match and first cricket team to come back.
Safe to say, this means a lot to us as Pakistanis. When tickets for day 1 went on sale, they immediately sold out and soon after the next 4 days started to sell out too – people were getting excited!
I decided that I want to be a part of this too, I’m not the biggest cricket fanatic, but I really wanted to know how it’s like to actually go to a match too, since I had always only seen it on TV.
So on Sunday, my family and I grabbed our tickets and went. The experience was a lot different than I had expected.
So, one of the biggest problems we face when it comes to going to an event in Pakistan is always parking. We hate it, no one tends to park properly and there’s always a few dads yelling at each other over double parking issues. I thought we’d face similar issues here, but to my surprise PCB had thought ahead. Parking spaces were arranged in the new Parade Ground Islamabad. From there Shuttle buses would take you to the Rawalpindi Stadium.
The Shuttles were the new buses, with really good drivers! None of the roller coaster hold on for your lives Bismillah rides. The drive there was smooth and the shuttles were given priority on the roads which got us to the stadium within a couple of minutes!
As we got off the shuttles we saw just how massive the crowd was, there wasn’t really a line it was more of a horde of people trying to enter through 2 metal detectors. Security was really really tight with the Pakistan Army and Police forces working together. Surprisingly they had separate sides for families to enter from, those actually had lines instead of hordes and we got through pretty quickly. By this point we had gone through about 5 security posts.
I was also really pleasantly surprised by the amount of female officers at the premises, there were at least 5-10 per post!
Once we got through all the security we made our way to our gate. Our tickets were scanned and we made it to the stands! When we got there, I looked around and realized just how many families were actually there, in our enclosure there were at least 35% of families, the majority were still just men but it was nice to see all sorts of families whether it was dads with daughters, parents were kids both young or old or simply just couples.
Later on I realized they also had a separate enclosure for women that had come alone, or had brought their kids. You could really feel how they were trying to encourage women to come and for men to bring the women in their families out too. Safe to say, it worked! The stadium was full!
Even though I’m not the biggest sports fan, I found myself really cheering and waiting for the 4s and 6s. We saw Abid Ali and Babar Adam score their centuries, seeing their happiness made everyone feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And you could see how happy our players were to be able to finally share their happiness with their home crowd.
To think that all these years, we’ve been cheering them on from our homes and they haven’t heard the cheers, they didn’t even truly get to know how connected people are to them. Seeing them hit the ball and the crowd jumping and screaming for them in joy and chanting their names was something I hadn’t seen before.
It was pretty wholesome.
As the match ended we made our way back from the stadium to the front of Nawaz Sharif Park to wait for the shuttles back to the parking. They arrived within 5 minutes and took us back safely to the parking and from there everyone was on their way home.
For me, this experience was unlike any other I’ve had before in Pakistan. The level of planning that had obviously gone into pulling this off was insane. There were zero hiccups and not once did I feel weird about being in a huge crowd. The management made sure that women would feel safe being there and we did.
I really hope this is the start of us having more events like these held in Pakistan. Especially with things like cricket that are so valued in our culture. I’m really glad our ten year exile has come to an end and I’m thankful to the Sri Lankan cricket team for visiting Pakistan and giving us an opportunity to see a match here in our homeland too.