No Football for Women?
BANGALORE: Amidst the hype around cricket in India, the game of football enjoys a small but strong following. But when it comes to women's football, seldom can a person even name a footballer on the Indian national team roster. Women's football has produced some players who are internationally recognised like Chitra Gangadharan who was selected to play for the All Asian Star team, Jaanki Kotecha who became the captain of the All Asian Star Team in 2008-2009 and Sujata Kar and Alpana Sil, the first Indian footballers to sign a contract outside India. However, compared to the rest of the world, women's football in India has gotten a lukewarm response.
With the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brasil underway, women’s national teams in countries like Korea, China, Australia and Switzerland, have already started preparing for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015 to take place in Canada. Does India figure in this scheme of things? No, sadly, India has not qualified.
Chitra Gangadharan, Indian National football player and well-known coach recalls the women’s world cup qualifier in Bahrain where India lost out. “In the round 1 of the Asian qualifier, we were in Group D and we played Myanmar, Chinese Taipei and Palestine. We lost two games and drew one,” she says.
The main reason for this dismal performance, she says, is the lack of exposure given to women’s football in the country. She adds, “Football in India is not taken seriously as there are not many tournaments for women to play in. Apart from the national championship, they don’t have other avenues. Even at the international level, we play only against low-ranking teams. How do you expect the sport to develop then?”
So what can be done to improve the state of women's football? The first step is to make football popular among Indian women, so that they can take up the sport seriously. "We need to start from the grassroot level. They should start early. Then, they can continue for a longer period before they quit to start a family,” says Mary Victoria, a coach with the Sports Authority of India.
Money is also an important factor, points out Chitra. "The girls need financial security. Only then will they be willing to dedicate their life to football. I know of some girls, who have played at the international level and have won gold medals, but now they do not have a job. If this is the case, no girl will take up the sport," says the coach, who has represented Karnataka and India in football since 1975.
And she feels this might change if some professional football is introduced in the country. “We should have a professional set up where girls play in different clubs.
This will ensure that they train regularly and systematically and also have economic independence.”
What’s her take on international clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool, Inter Milan and Boca Juniors setting up football schools in India? Will it improve the sport for women? “Only if they are doing it philanthropically. If they are here to make money, it will not work out. They should be willing to adopt a few women players and develop their skills.”
The All India Football Federation (AIFF), on its part, is planning to set up an independent women’s football league to get more participation from the women footballing fraternity. But how it will pan out, we have to wait and watch.