NEW DELHI: Women’s football has been on an upward curve in the country with India reaching the AFC Olympic Qualifiers Round 2 recently while also going on a number of exposure trips in recent times. While the picture seems rosy from the outside, the players themselves admit their journey to make it to the national team has been anything but. Ashalata Devi, AIFF women’s Footballer of the Year, has been a rock at the back. But she recounted how when growing up, her parents were against her playing the sport.
“I played the game first in Class VII and really enjoyed it and started playing. But my mother repeatedly kept telling me why I’m playing the sport and bringing disrepute to the family,” she told this daily. Choosing football as a career option has become lucrative for the men but it remains a risk for the women, something AIFF Emerging Women’s Footballer of the Year Dangmei Grace agreed with. “My parents were supportive but I do not come from an affluent background. I used to ask for extra pocket money to buy studs while the dietary requirements of being a professional footballer meant lot of extra expenditure.”
And if parental pressure and lack of income are not enough, external pressure and lack of support are always there to add fuel to the fire. Sanju Yadav had to beg her parents not to get influenced by villagers who didn’t like the fact that a girl was playing the sport. “How can you let your daughter play wearing shorts? Shouldn’t you ask her to stop? These were common questions my parents used to face when I started playing.” The 21-year-old also added that she learnt the basics of the game from a kabaddi coach!
All three have, however, won over the sceptics and whenever they head back home, are greeted warmly.
With the advent of the Indian Womens League, the women now have had the opportunity to play more. “Compared to when I started, things have improved. Back then, we only used to look forward to the Senior Nationals. Now, we have the IWL, national camps as well as exposure trips. We now earn decent wages. I would urge all the major I-League and ISL clubs to get involved in the women’s game so that we can improve even further,” Ashalata added.
The women are currently in the capital as part of the national camp, preparing for their next assignment: COTIF Cup in Spain. “Playing against European teams and even training there, we learn so much. The morale is high. We have a good mix of youth and experience and hopefully, we can show that we are no pushovers,” the players said in unison.