Islamabad: At the age of eight, when most kids spend their time on smartphones, Ayesha Ayaz made her international debut as Pakistan’s youngest taekwondo practitioner.
Ayesha emerged as Pakistan’s most promising star after becoming the youngest competitor to win a bronze medal for her country at the seventh edition of the Fujairah Taekwondo Open Championship in the UAE early this month.
“I really love taekwondo and my aim is to get Olympic gold for Pakistan,” the young athlete told Gulf News.
The eight-year-old dedicated her first international win to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and is eager to show him her medal.
Pakistan’s haul at the championship was two gold, one silver and two bronze medals.
Talking to Gulf News, Lieutenat-Colonel (retired) Wasim Ahmad, president of the Pakistan Taekwondo Federation (PTF), said the young star is very dedicated.
“She has demonstrated outstanding dedication and accuracy at an early age,” he said.
Noting that there a few other young taekwondo competitors, Ahmad said “Ayesha is the youngest Pakistani to win a medal at the international competition and we couldn’t be more [proud] of her achievement.
Appreciation and honour will not only motivate my daughter to improve her performance but inspire young Pakistani girls.
Ayesha hails from Swat Valley in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, home to the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Like Malala, who became the global symbol of female education, Ayesha is passionate about becoming Swat Valley’s sports icon.
Introduced to martial arts at the tender age of three, Ayesha has won many district, provincial and international medals.
Her father, Mohammad Ayaz, also a taekwondo practitioner, said she took to the sport after watching him training. She grew up practising with her brothers Zaryab Khan, 7, and Zeeyab Khan, 5, who are also national champions.
Ayesha is a third-grade student at The Best Schooling Academy in Swat Valley and has a deep-seated passion for sports.
In the conservative part of north-western Pakistan, where education for girls still remains a challenge, Ayesha’s father is determined to help his daughter realise her Olympic dream.
“She is a great little athlete and I will take every step to support her despite social displeasure,” the proud father told Gulf News. “It is hers and now my dream is to see Ayesha participate in [the] Olympics and raise Pakistan’s flag high at the global event.”
Her dedication towards the sport is remarkable at this young age but without government recognition and support, young competitors face a risk of disappointment.
“It’s really hard being an athlete without any recognition,” Ayesha’s father said, lamenting the fact that her win has so far been overlooked by the sports board and officials.
“Appreciation and honour will not only motivate my daughter to improve her performance but inspire young Pakistani girls to take up sports,” he said.
Sport in Pakistan possesses huge potential when it comes to empowering youngsters. The impact on girls is especially significant as it helps break down gender stereotypes, thus improving girls’ confidence.
The PTF is encouraging young taekwondo players from all over the country, but its president Ahmad says that the support of government, coupled with sports-based investment, can go a long way in enabling young people to live healthier and productive lives.