Manizeh Zainli, Pakistan football's first female sec gen, talks game's inertia, prospects, plans

Faizan Lakhani
Manizeh Zainli

General secretaries from various football associations of South Asia met via video conference on Monday for a routine meeting of South Asian Football Federation that decided on various issues, including the rescheduling of 13th edition of SAFF Cup.

The meeting was usual, still there was something unprecedented.

Pakistan was represented in the meeting by Manizeh Zainli - the country’s first-ever female secretary general, and also the only female rep in the online conference.

She was appointed to the post by PFF’s Normalization Committee in February 2020. Her appointment at the time had led to some criticism on sexist lines, with her critics taking aim at the fact that she did not have a football background.

But Manizeh remained unfazed.

“I don’t want to respond to misogynists comments,” she told Geo Super in an exclusive interview.

“I would let my work speak for itself and these things don’t bother me at all. I am here in an administrative position, although I have played some football but that is not required for my job neither do I need a coaching license as I am not a player or a coach. I am in administration so people should see my administrative work and background,” she said.

She also questioned what football background her predecessors had before coming to PFF.

Manizeh said that representing Pakistan in the SAFF meeting as the only female official was something very special.

"It made me feel proud to be representing Pakistan at the forum and being the only female there. It humbles me. It is a big responsibility and I am trying to do my best and I hope I can make a difference,” she said.

When asked what her goals are as the secretary general of PFF, Manizeh, in a philosophical manner, replied: “Reach for the moon, even if you fall short, you’ll land among the stars.”

“I have goals and dreams for Pakistan football but the time I have with the committee is very limited. Nevertheless, as long as I am here, I will try my best to restore Pakistan football, at least to take it back to the position where it used to be,” she added.

“We are trying to get the best coaches and also to get our coaches trained. We will try to take Pakistan football to the top."

But Manizeh is fully aware of the obstacles ahead and understands that to run football, or any sport in Pakistan, has its challenges. She is still hopeful of a better future for Pakistan football.

One of her plans for the local game is to set up a league for women.

“We have been thinking and planning about women’s league since the start. We were aiming to start it from July but Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown forced us to delay it but once we are allowed to resume activities we will surely work towards start of women’s football league,” she said.

Bossing the men's game: A chat with Pakistan football's first female admin