Kerala Blasters to blasted over women's team pause
It is also a sad commentary on how the women’s game in India is viewed by at least some of its major players.
BENGALURU: When Kerala Blasters took the indefensible decision to walk off the pitch during their ISL playoff encounter against Bengaluru FC last season, the assumption was that, from a PR standpoint, things couldn’t get worse. On Tuesday, they topped that with an even more spectacular own goal.
After their walk-off netted them a hefty `4cr fine and a ten-game ban for coach Ivan Vukomanovic, the Blasters, on Tuesday, announced a ‘temporary pause of our Women’s Team’. In what was arguably more ill-advised than Vukomanovic’s decision to call off his players from the pitch, they chose to link that decision with the fine that had been imposed on them, portraying their women’s teams as victims of the penalty.
“After a very encouraging first season that saw our women’s team achieve tremendous results, this year the Club had plans for increased investments for our women’s team. These investments included a first-of-a-kind foreign pre-season tour accompanying our Men’s Team, player exchanges, exposure tours, and so much more. However, the financial sanctions have presented us with an unfortunate challenge,” the Blasters statement said. “We deeply regret that we cannot continue our women’s team activities until such time that there is complete clarity on the matter. The decision to pause their activities was made after careful consideration and evaluation of the current circumstances.”
The move was predictably met with harsh criticism from all quarters. Coaches, and former players all had the same thing to say. It is difficult to imagine how anyone in the Blasters management team thought that this move would result in anything other than a spectacular backfire. If they had hoped to intimidate the AIFF or present themselves as victims of official apathy, that failed. Federation officials had the same message for anyone approaching them for comment — this is their internal decision and we have no comments. In other words, this is their mess. When your adversary has shot themselves in the foot, all you need to do is to look on and laugh.
If the hope was to galvanize the fans against the sanctions, that appears to have failed, with the Blasters fan base loud in condemning the decision. Manjappada, the most vocal among the Blasters’ fan groups, termed the decision ‘pathetic’. In short, all that the decision has done is to portray the Blasters' management as petulant and childish.
The timing of the announcement also betrays shocking insensitivity, for it not only comes at a time when the state of women’s sports in India is under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons but also just a few days after another club from the same state — Gokulam Kerala — lifted the Indian Women’s League title, proving that Kerala is indeed a hotbed for female footballing talent.
It is also a sad commentary on how the women’s game in India is viewed by at least some of its major players. Such a decision can only come from a belief that involvement in the women’s game is an act of charity, an obligation that you have to fulfil. This betrays a lack of vision. The Indian women’s team is eleventh in Asia, only a couple of rungs in quality beneath teams like Thailand who played in the last FIFA World Cup or the Philippines who will play in the 2023 edition. That is a gap that can be bridged with a bit of long-term planning and vision from all stakeholders. But in a scenario where a club’s women’s team is punished for something that their men did, that appears too much to ask for.