Treat me like a player, not a woman : star footballer Dalima Chibber

dalima chibber

She was forty yards from the goal when she took the free-kick, aiming to give India the lead at the SAFF Women’s Championship 2019 against Nepal in the final. The kick was thumped so hard and precisely that it sailed into the top-left corner of the goalpost, giving no chance to the goalkeeper to stop it.  Dalima Chibber moved faster than the blink of an eye and woosh, the ball went. Now pursuing her Masters in Sports Psychology in Canada, she is playing for Manitoba Bisons. SheThePeople spoke to her about her journey, and here is the inspiring conversation.


1. Dalima Chibber, what is the difference you have observed in the environment between Canada and India?

Speaking for the game, every place has a different game. What might be played in a state in a country, will be very different from other states. The game is much more physical out there in the West. One has to go really hard on the ball. Speaking socially, in India it is very tough to financially sustain oneself through the game. Outside the country, the value of a student working as an athlete is much more.

2.How has COVID affected the pay gap curve for women footballers?

All of us have a reality check of the pay gap. Male champions, in every field, in every sport are paid much more than a female champion. It is disheartening to see that despite putting in the same effort, our pay curve isn’t the same. Even the rewards for trophies are magnanimously less. When we say, Women’s FIFA or Women’s NBA instead of just FIFA or NBA we try to differentiate between women and men implicitly. The change is to see a female player as just a player, instead of trying to give perfunctory labels.

3.What have been some of the obstacles you have faced in this journey?

Honestly, it hasn’t been easy at all. If you have any dream, trust me, it takes a lot to get there. Everybody has those moments where they feel they should give up. When every other person tells you, that what you are dreaming for is difficult and impossible, you feel debilitated. You feel upset and heartbroken. There were days when I felt so to. I was clouded with self-doubt and fear. I guess, my relationship with my parents is great and that helped me a lot. It required hard work and regular action. It wasn’t easy at all.

4.What kind of sexism have you seen on field and off field?

Honestly, back in India I used to play with boys on the field unlike in Canada where there is no male soccer team for Manitoba Bisons, for example. I had to tell them to treat me like a player, instead of treating me like a woman on the field. Everybody works equally hard and puts in the practice required. So why differentiate them on the ground? People think that because of bodily processes after puberty like menstruation, or something like pregnancy would affect a woman athlete’s game. Often this becomes a blanket, an excuse for subtle sexism. Look at Mary Kom as an example. She has three kids. Has her game changed?

5.There are several kinds of myths about women in sports. What did you come across?

It is often considered that women in sports are lesbian or bisexual. They are labelled as masculine and incapable of sustaining romantic relationships because it might affect the ego of their partners. Well, all of these are untrue. Everyone has their own sexual choices and they are completely outside of the game.

As far as their relationships, marriages and family lives are concerned, one must understand that there are different aspects to someone’s life. I am someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, a friend; there are multiple roles to a person. It is often thought that after marriages or relationships, there might be discipline issues to a woman’s performance in the game but let’s be honest, discipline issues are more prevalent in male athletes than female athletes.

6. Dalima Chibber, how do you think women empowerment in sports can happen at the local level?

I think women empowerment in sports can happen if we all look at issues such as inadequate funding, poor governance and lack of publicity strategically and try working on them. Associations and federations can take effort and try their best, but at the end other stakeholders also have to talk about it and take effort.

Media has to give women athletes as much importance as male athletes. I think it starts slowly – Dalima Chibber

7.What advice would you like to give to an aspiring female athlete?

Honestly, if there is anything you want, it will never come easy. It takes a lot of courage. People will pull you down all the time. It is you who has to come out of it. It takes discipline and reckless hard work. Trust me, it does not come easy. Priority setting, goal setting and an intention to put in the hard work, goes a long way. It takes blood, sweat, tears and never giving up. There will be days when you will doubt yourself.

There will be times you will be exhausted and upset. The only thing you have to remember is to keep going forward.  I remember the times when a lot of my friends used to be chilling, having fun, going out and enjoying. I questioned myself a lot. But I also remember how I relentlessly put in the hard work by waking up at 6:00 am every day. I used to practice till 8, go to school, come back, do my homework, practice again, come back, have dinner, study and sleep. If there is a way to get ahead, it is hard work. Progress takes time. Trust yourself.