COVID-19 has rocked the sports industry in unprecedented ways. Then again, these are unprecedented times, where sports clubs, associations, teams and organisations have had to announce wage/pay cuts and even offer their staff redundancies.

Meanwhile, sports are losing out on millions from TV broadcasting, ticketing and merchandising revenue, alongside various other economic aspects of the industry. Pakistan, like almost every other part of the world is not immune to this either, and neither is the women’s sports within the country.

Post-2019, we have seen how much of an appetite there is for fans and organisations to engage with women’s sports. The Women’s T20 Cricket World Cup in Australia earlier this year, and the FIFA World Cup last year, have shown the potential for the growth of women’s sport, but empty stadiums during the group stage games in the T20 World cup here in Australia have also raised eyebrows regarding how much work is required to move forward.

Especially when you consider that in both instances, the critical lens of ‘success’ has very much focused on Western audiences and their responses to the growth in women’s sport, conveniently ignoring and avoiding what it’s like for women in sport outside the Anglosphere and Europe.

Even though nearly 50 percent of the teams that competed in the 2019 Women’s World Cup were not ‘Western’ and 7 of the 10 teams to play in the T20 World Cup were not from the West.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the media coverage of women’s sports is abysmal when compared to countries in other parts of the developing world, especially within traditional media, such as TV news channels.

Barring cricket, where Pakistani women cricketers have recently seen an increase in salaries from PCB central contract pool in 2019, although this is minuscule relative to the men’s game, it is still an increase.

Much like it has around the world, COVID-19 is making sure that these wins for female athletes are being pushed away.

Aside from a handful of cricketers, like Sana Mir and Nida Dar or the odd footballer such as Hajra Khan, exposure to women’s sport across the country is quite limited, and it is very common for female athletes to play multiple sports at a professional level and work a job to manage a living.

In fact, Sana Mahmud, former captain of the Pakistan women’s basketball and football teams, once referred to women in Pakistani sport as not having ‘the same status as perhaps an athlete on a varsity team at a major college in the US. Instead of people flocking to come to watch our games (unless it’s cricket), there’s a handful of immediate friends and family that show up.’

Yet, with the financial decline in the men’s game and perhaps the capitalist hold on the sports system, there is a light at the end of this long tunnel of underrepresentation, albeit with a lot of challenges.

Fizza Abid, team manager at the PCB Women’s Division, adds that post-COVID-19, a lot of work and funding is needed to regain the sport and in a post-COVID world, staging cricket tournaments and/or training will require additional safety and logistical arrangements.

She states that “at the moment, all cricket boards in the world are experiencing major financial losses because of postponement of cricket events which is why their priority will be to regain a good financial position, which is only possible through some form of regular cricket.”

“As we know, statistically, men’s cricket has always returned more profit and has been a major interest of investment for a variety of stakeholders from broadcasters, sponsors, brands etc, which is why women’s cricket might not end up being a priority for the time being, considering that regaining a good financial position for a better long-term future will be a priority for the organisation.”

“We will most likely also see women’s cricket behind closed doors like any other cricket or sport post-COVID-19. The games that will be held, will be selective domestic and international cricket events, while considering that logistical, health and safety arrangements that the board can manage. And making sure they don’t clash with men’s cricket events will be key.”

Before COVID-19, women’s cricket was progressing at a good rate not only globally with an attendance of 86,174 people at MCG for the Women’s T20 World Cup but also in Pakistan, as domestic tournaments were live-streamed on YouTube, night matches were organised in stadiums, and the U18 girls’ academy was developed, however, this is most likely not to be the case, post-COVID-19.”

She says, “It will be more selective and limited. In such times, increased financial help by the board will help female cricketers maintain their standards and not lose motivation while having consistent training assessments and online interactive sessions will help keep the players engaged. It will also be great to see sponsors stepping in for women’s cricket in Pakistan by supporting the players and the board with financial gains and organising domestic matches at stadiums to improve the quality of the game.”

With developments such as these, the women’s game has a grand opportunity to re-enter the market, only this time–bigger, better and stronger than before because how we watch sport and understand it will change once we all come out of this.

With the support of female players, coaches and administrators, Pakistani sport, be it squash with Carla Khan and Noorena Shams, football with Hajra Khan and Abiha Haider, Tennis with Sarah Mahboob Khan and Ushna Suhail, or even Fizza Abid on the management front, there will be much-needed space that focuses on developing sports not just for men, but also women’s sport. The question that remains is, how will this happen?

For starters, a post-COVID-19 world is almost a ‘reset’ of sorts, where the new generation of female athletes in Pakistan can be supported by sponsors on television and the wider media and economic avenues can enable women in sport to partake in workshops and seminars hosted by the abovementioned individuals. This can also benefit these professionals to develop and mentor future players while creating another income source.

Some, such as Lauren Schwaar, a sports policy expert, has even called this an opportunity for a radical shift in sport, away from ‘corruption, capitalistic pre-eminence, systemic inequality or abuse.’ And that is, perhaps, where the actual problem lies for women in sports in Pakistan.

To date, politics heavily influences sport in Pakistan and is also unequal in the selection and the lack of merit. This is not just regarding gender but includes the lack of representation amongst certain ethnic groups and regions within the men’s game. And COVID-19 may just be the point to shock the system and move away from this.

Perhaps this is wishful thinking but we know for certain, like most other sports analysts that sports will not be the same as it was, and with the high-calibre of young female athletes in Pakistan, the right support, systems and processes will enable women in sport to grow in Pakistan after we move on from COVID-19.

It is just a matter of working towards this and creating opportunities that allow more women to take part, and the current crop of players, coaches and administrators to better use the tools they possess with the help of sponsors and institutions to build the game further.

Humaira Saeed is a writer and journalist. She tweets @SaysHumaira.

Zushan Hashmi is a writer and the Co-founder of Sportageous, a sports platform, based in Australia. He tweets @zushanhashmi.