2000-09-19 00:00:00

A Catholic woman is the only female athlete on the Pakistan team competing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Shazia Hidayat, 20, a middle- and long-distance runner from a village near Chichawatni, a small town 360 kilometers south of Islamabad, says she had to overcome big obstacles to become a member of the national team.

"My father, a teacher, always supported me, but the whole atmosphere in the country is so male-dominated that everybody told him not to send me for the athletic meet," she told UCA News.

Some quarters were insisting that the Pakistani team be all male, she said, recalling the question being raised of how a Pakistani woman could race in a competition in which other women do not wear clothes that cover their body.

Hidayat said this question made her realize that if she qualified, she would probably have to wear a jogging suit while others wore shorts. Girls in Pakistan, when allowed to take part in sports, must wear such suits.

"It was hard to overcome these objections," she said.

Another hurdle, she said, was that Pakistani women´s times in races, given the handicaps they race under, are not up to Olympic standards.

"Anyhow, I am happy I made it," Hidayat said.

Father Parvez Gulzar, parish priest of Chichawatni, told UCA News, "The whole community is proud of Shazia. Whenever she visits the parish, everybody wants to meet her."

He said that Hidayat´s parents "have strong faith and want her to be a witness of good Christian living in the field of sports." She goes to church regularly when she is in the area, the priest added.

Hidayat´s achievement in making the national team comes after Yousaf Youhanna, another Catholic, made a name for himself and Pakistan in cricket, a favorite sport in the country.

Christians comprise less than 3 percent of Pakistan´s 140 million people, some 95 percent of whom are Muslims.


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