Almost a decade ago, among the millions of cricket lovers eagerly following matches during the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, there was also a girl who became madly attached to the sport. Mehak Shahid says that she hasn’t missed a single match that’s been broadcast on TV ever since.
Two years later, in 2013, she came across another young lady as crazy about cricket as herself, who was covering matches for a private news channel. It made her wonder if she could do the same.
“It was Zainab Abbas. She became my inspiration for pursuing sports journalism,” says Mehak.
Today, Mehak runs her own YouTube channel and is the first female sports journalist from Balochistan.
“I cover matches, meet sportspersons, I do interviews all of which I record myself, and later also edit and upload them myself,” she says.
With a Mass Communications degree from the University of Balochistan, Mehak already had some journalistic experience.
“After completing my degree, I did a six-month-long internship with a local web channel, along with some of my university mates,” she says.
“It was there that I was encouraged and got the confidence to go solo and do exclusive stories. I was the only female there but no one made me feel that and I had equal opportunity. If you have such people around you and you are yourself enthusiastic and passionate about what you do, then it eventually leads to a lot of learning and achievement, too."
Of course, it was not all a cakewalk.
“Initially everyone faces difficulties, especially women working in what is better known as a male-dominated field. I, too, used to second-guess myself in the beginning, wondering if I would be able to face people on the field. I was very conscious in the beginning about my voice as I felt it was too soft. But I trained myself to sound better. My voice is no longer an issue for me,” she laughs.
In the largely male-dominated field of sports journalism, a pioneering young woman from Balochistan is doggedly making her mark
“I also realised I was feeling that way because of my own lack of confidence. The confidence comes with experience. Fortunately, for me, my family was also always on my side. I have very motivating parents who keep giving me the push to carry on going. I think family support is a must. I go alone everywhere, but my parents’ trust in me keeps me from blocking my own progress,” she says.
When asked why she started her own YouTube channel instead of joining a publication or television, Mehak says she wanted to be free to cover whatever sport she felt like instead of being contained by beats.
“I cover sports of my own liking. I am not bound to report to anyone, which can sometimes feel like a hurdle,” she explains.
She continues: “Digital media influencers can cover just about any beat. They are not limited to sports or current affairs only. I am more focused on sports and I know, sooner or later, I will become a name to be reckoned with in my field,” she smiles dreamily.
She talks about when she started a fan club on Twitter for Ahmed Shehzad.
“Ahmed Shehzad was making his comeback in 2013 during the Pakistan versus South Africa series in South Africa. Being a die-hard fan of his, I used to keep my eyes open for every new picture of his that I could find and I posted it on Twitter to promote him. I used to wish I could interview him someday.
That wish came true this year, when the Quetta Gladiators came to promote PSL 2020 in Quetta at a local shopping mall. It was there that I finally got to meet and interview Ahmed Shehzad. I was trembling out of excitement at the time. It was the happiest day of my life!
“I also got to interview Shahid Afridi when he came to Quetta earlier this year for a charity match. Catching up with Afridi was not easy but, again, it was made possible with the support of my fellow journalists who know my passion for sports. They helped me corner him, and another milestone was achieved,” she laughs.
About her being the lone female sports journalist in Balochistan, she shrugs and smiles. “Sometimes I feel like I am creating history for myself. When they will talk about female journalists of the province, they won’t be able to ignore mentioning me,” she says.
Mehak earned much appreciation recently during a football tournament match, where the ground was jam-packed and the guest of honour noticed one lone girl running around with her camera and microphone among so many male sports reporters, prompting him to mention her in his speech.
“The tournament was taking place after 17 years and almost all the local teams from different cities of Balochistan were participating in it. Almost as much in love with football as I am with cricket, I was also quite happy to be there and covering the event,” she says.
“Thanks to the kind mention, now everyone knows me as the only female being there to cover the event,” she laughs.
About her goals for the future, Mehak says that she wants to promote sports in Balochistan.
“This province has given me recognition, fame and respect. My first priority is my own people. I have seen the hardship faced by our local sportspersons, who hardly get any exposure and experience to move ahead in their fields.
“Balochistan has produced big names in boxing, karate, football, etc. Yet there are many other talented sportspersons here who are in need of recognition and I want to make them known. I also look forward to working internationally someday, a dream for every journalist. I know it will happen for me. But for now I am here and enjoying what I do. It will all come to me, one step at a time.”
With such passion and perseverance, it likely will for the patient Mehak.
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 29th, 2020