Home > News > Time For a Goal – Women’s Football | Laila Dastur Haksar

Time For a Goal – Women’s Football | Laila Dastur Haksar

37402250.cms“Don’t be afraid if things seem difficult in the beginning. That’s only the initial impression. The important thing is not to retreat.”Olga Korbut (Gymnast)

In a country where cricket is religion, and Sachin Tendulkar is God, I never expected this year’s FIFA World Cup to create such a buzz in India. But a quick early morning check to my Facebook and twitter feeds, and the past one month has been littered with football news. Restaurants and bars held viewing events, friends met at the wee hours of the morning to route for their teams – and yet the Indian team was nowhere to be seen.

At one time, football was the national sport of India – an effort to unify the Indian Army. India is home to some of the oldest football clubs in the world and the third world’s oldest competition, the Durand Cup.

The Indian women’s football team boasts a FIFA ranking of 50 out of 175, and the team also grabbed 11th position in the Asian Football Confederation ranking, moving up one spot. The women’s team won the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) women’s cup last year against Sri Lanka. Then why with this football furor, is there so little focus on building the game here in India?

Before the World Cup started, the German Embassy in Delhi hosted an event for “What’s Up Germany?”, an e-magazine on football. The star of the event wasn’t the ambassador, Michael Steiner, nor the captain of the Indian national men’s football team, Sunil Chhetri. It was Aditi Chauhan – the 20 year-old goalkeeper of the women’s Indian football squad!

Aditi-Chauhan-Indian-women-football.-672x372Aditi, selected at the age of just 14 to be in the under-19 national football team said the interest in football for young girls has grown tremendously, but unfortunately, there are not enough resources available for them to follow their dreams.

At one time, football was the national sport of India – an effort to unify the Indian Army. India is home to some of the oldest football clubs in the world and the third world’s oldest competition, the Durand Cup.

“There’s no money, no sponsors, and even national players don’t have enough camps, tournaments and opportunities to practice all year round. It’s mostly individual efforts on our part to keep fit and play the game,” says Aditi.

The good news is, even without official support and little resources, girls are not backing down from taking up football. The captain of the women’s team, Oinam Bembem Devi, feels that in some states, girls outnumber boys in taking up football. In her home state of Manipur, Oinam says that the state is promoting football for girls and many are training in their schools and later are selected for state teams.

Shubhankar Mukherji, director, national teams, All India Football Federation (AIFF), too, feels there is huge potential for women’s football. “There are many upcoming players … who are doing well and many of them play in the national team. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough financial resources to support women’s football in a significant way. Sponsors too shy away from women’s events because of lack of visibility,” says Shubhankar.

There is good news though. Even with the lack of financial resources, schools across the country are still supporting women’s football. Dhirendra Singh, a former footballer and coach sees a growing interest in the game among school girls in Noida.

“The mindset about not allowing girls to play football because it’s a rough game is changing and with CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) supporting the game and including it in the curriculum, many schools in Noida now have teams that participate in a number of interschool matches for girls,” says Dhirendra.

Along with schools, grassroots organisations are also working towards providing training opportunities for girls keen to play football. For example Conscient Football is an academy that has leagues, camps, coaching courses and exposure trips. Director Anupama Jain says, “We welcome girls in all our programmes as we are on the look out for talent; a talented girl whose family cannot afford our fee can receive a full scholarship from us for admission to the FCBEscola academy, the official football school of FC Barcelona, which now operates in Delhi NCR.”

With schools and grassroots organisations stepping up, it is time for the government to also focus on building women’s football in India. Boasting better ranking and outcomes than their male counterparts, it’s time India took an interest in their potential World Cup team – the Indian Women’s Football squad.

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