CHENNAI: It’s been a long, tough road for Anju Turambekar. Sure, it’s led to a good place — the All India Football Federation’s Head of Grassroots was recently nominated to the Asian Football Confederation’s Grassroots Panel, the first Indian woman to be nominated to an Asian panel. One of the many people to offer their congratulations on her elevation to the AFC panel was the man credited with the rise of Japanese football, Tom Byer, who tweeted he ‘couldn’t think of a better candidate’. That is not the first glass ceiling that the 30-year-old is shattering. Just a year ago, she became the youngest woman in the country to get an AFC ‘A’ licence.
But all this came after running away from home to pursue her passion and facing the various challenges that come with being a woman in what many deem to be a man’s world. “I had a dream to play for my country. I was working hard, and had run away from my house in search of more playing opportunities,” Turambekar says. “My parents were not happy that I was playing a ‘man’s game’ and my focus was getting diverted from the house and work on the farm we had.”
Soon though, she realised that her playing career was not going to work out. Coaching seemed the next logical step. “I got an opportunity to participate in an international coaching course in the Netherlands which is where my coaching journey started,” she says. That was in 2010. A year later, she had completed her ‘D’ license in Mumbai and was on her way.
Men’s football has rarely been a welcoming place for women who’ve chosen to venture into it. Some of the biggest names to do so have complained of sexist attitudes that they’ve had to overcome. Current French women’s team coach Corinne Diacre, who become the first Frenchwoman to manage a men’s team has spoken about how women in football ‘are seen as objects’, while Imke Wubbenhorst, the first German woman to manage a men’s team in the country’s top-five leagues, was recently asked about how the players felt about having a woman in the dressing rooms.
It is the kind of attitude that Turambekar too has encountered. “It has happened a lot with me. For example, I am standing in front of aspirant grassroots instructors/coaches and trying to explain things to them, they take some time to settle down to ‘learn from the lady.’ Not that it stays on forever, but the initial minutes, you need to earn their confidence.
“Worldwide, men coaches get more exposure in terms of playing, coaching, competitions as a player and coach,” she says. “So yes, experience matters. But if you have self-belief and if you are a keen learner, it’s not impossible to be in the same boat. My priority is to be a better professional and deliver quality while keeping my values high. Just break those stereotypes and barriers.”