With women's football set to be in limelight, Ritu looks at the bigger picture

India international Ritu Rani knew that women's football will suddenly be in the limelight in the upcoming months with India hosting the AFC Asian Cup in January 2022.
Ritu Rani
Ritu Rani

KOCHI: Incremental gains or progress often go unnoticed in sports, which is often notorious for glorifying watersheds or defining moments.

India international Ritu Rani knew that women's football will suddenly be in the limelight in the upcoming months with India hosting the AFC Asian Cup in January 2022.

The defender will also be in action for Gokulam Kerala FC who will represent the country in the inaugural AFC Women's Club Championship which will be held in November this year.
The 24-year-old however is under no illusions and the focus of the team and the players is on the smaller aspects that will take women's football forward.

Whether it is taking coaching lessons from an internationally acclaimed coach like Thomas Dennerby (national team coach), or playing friendly matches against high-level opposition. A cynical approach towards women's football in India can be on how a majority of ISL or I-League clubs haven't yet started women's teams or how there are very few games for professional female footballers here in a calendar year.

While there was no Indian Women's League this year and women don't enjoy the same game time or exposure as their male counterparts, Ritu believes that incremental improvements will add up in the bigger picture, even though they may not be tangible at the moment.

"It's true that IWL happens only for around two months and it didn't happen this year. But the rest of the year, we are training hard with the India camp. And when new opportunities like the Club Championship opens up, these are all beneficial for women's football. The fact that India will be hosting the Asian Cup will go a long way in promoting women's football. The IWL is also getting competitive. These are small things but everything gets better little by little," said Ritu.

The defender pointed to how the upcoming friendlies against UAE and Bahrain were again a huge boost for the team in terms of preparations.

"We are getting to play these friendly games which will be crucial in the lead-up to the tournament. When it comes to the Asian Cup, we will just focus on putting to practice what we learned on the training pitch. The coach has been guiding us and we are learning a lot from him," she said.

Having overcome a serious injury in recent years and cement her spot in the national side, Ritu believes things are moving in the right direction.

"We are getting to experience such big tournaments. And a lot of the players are even going abroad to play like Bala Devi, Dalima (Chhibber), and Aditi (Chauhan) to name some. We can't expect women's football to be transformed overnight but all this is good for the future and coming generations will have more opportunities," she said.

The focus is now firmly on the two continental competitions, but any positive performances in these tournaments won't be an overnight phenomenon as Ritu puts it.

"It is hard to predict how things will go. We'll be up against quality opposition. But we are training hard and let the results and the process take care of itself," she summed up. 

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