Until recently, women and football would not have been heard in the same sentence in Pakistan. Times are changing though, and the world's sixth most densely populated country now has a women's team currently looking forward to playing its first international match. Unbelievable yet true, and much of it is down to the efforts of one woman: Monika Staab. The Pakistan Football Association has been very active in the past two years, working hard and laying the groundwork for outside assistance, which the country is now ready for.
The 48-year-old is held up as a pioneer and a driving force behind the sport she loves back in her native Germany. Born in Frankfurt, she was influential behind turning local outfit SG Praunheim into FFC Frankfurt and helping them to become the Bayern Munich of German women's football, working as coach and president and steering the team to domestic and international glory. Players such as Birgit Prinz, Steffi Jones and Renate Lingor are just three of the big names whom Staab has helped along the route to becoming European and world champions.
In December 2006, the widely respected Staab left the German title-holders looking for new challenges, and she soon found them. She is currently working for FIFA as a Women's Football Specialist, advising on development projects around the world, particularly in Arab and Asian countries. Since the beginning of the year, Staab has been in Asia, helping women's football get off the ground across the region. "I see myself as a sporting missionary and I have to say that this new role is really fulfilling," she enthused in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Real development work around the world
Staab was recently in Bahrain for five months to set up a women's football team. The project was a great success, with a number of internationals being played and the team being given provisional status in the FIFA world rankings. "I'll keep on going back there to see how everything is coming on. I'll keep an eye on all of the projects I'm involved in," explained Staab, who never rests on her laurels, however well a project has gone.
Her latest trip was for six weeks to Pakistan, where she ran four training camps in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Quetta, with 300 young women taking part. "I would never have thought that there would be so many participants," said Staab with a smile. "It was amazing and just great to see so many women that enthusiastic about the sport. This in a country where so many cultural barriers exist that you can't simply ignore them."
'About more than results'
The culmination of the four training camps was a championship, after which Staab selected a 25-strong squad for the national team. "Selections like this are obviously different from the ones we used to have at FFC Frankfurt," she explained. "The players wear long trousers and two of them also had headscarves. But when you think that at the final tournament there were 4,000 spectators, 99 per cent of them men who all happily accepted the idea of women's football, then you can see that what we achieved was about more than just match results. Four thousand spectators, 20 journalists and ten teams of reporters filming - I never had that in Frankfurt!"
It is clear to see that Staab is totally committed to her new role. "It's such a great feeling to see that with FIFA's help and their authority in this project as the governing body of world football, real development work can be carried out," she concludes. "When you see that you can give these girls so much, see the smiles and the sparkle in their eyes, the passion and the commitment, and then when they thank you for doing this, it is absolutely staggering."