Women’s Football in India: Time to Raise Some Tough Questions?
Tanvie Hans, the first woman footballer to play in men’s league in India, has some serious concerns. She has played for the Tottenham Hotspur ladies’ team, one of the premier clubs of England. In India, she has started to compete in The Amateur League in Bengaluru, a competition known to be dominantly played by men. She is appalled at the state of Indian football infrastructure. She shared her plight on Twitter saying, “We lost against Bihar yesterday, and I walked off in tears, not because of the loss, but because it was hardly a game of #football. The ground was flooded, and the ball was hardly moving. Heart broken by the conditions we are being asked to play in. I would be, even if we won.” The 25-year-old Delhi-based footballer posted a tweet showing the poor conditions of the ground women footballers play in.
The Delhi-born girl has played for UK clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham. Unfortunately, with her British passport in pocket, Tanvie could not represent India till now, but she does dream of playing for India.
It’s worth asking, are our players up against rival teams or against poor conditions? Why must they fight not just footballers but apathy of infrastructure. Pictures that Tanvie posted show the height of the grass in the field to be much more than it should be. At places, this looked more like a paddy field than a football field.
Whether league football or national, we have seen only inconsistent patronage of the sport in India.
The federation has been guilty of lethargy and negativity when it comes to the development of the eco-system for women footballers. For example, less than five per cent of AIFF’s annual budgets are allocated to Women’s Football.
Despite the success of the inaugural Indian Women’s League in 2017, even though it was held at a single venue in Delhi, the AIFF has done precious little to harness the inherent potential for women’s football in India. Ideally, the league should have helped the officials identify a pool of talent that should have been provided national and international exposure through friendlies at home and other venues around Asia.
Culture plays an important role too. Football isn’t perceived as a very women friendly sport in India.
- Why does women’s football in India not get the attention that the men’s version does?
- Why must players be forced to play in outrageous weather conditions?
- Five Indian Women’s Football League Teams Have Not Held a Practice Session in three months say reports.
Tanaz Mohammed is a grassroots development officer with Mumbai City Football Club, a Premier Skilled Head and a football coach with the Reliance Young Champs Development Squad. In an interview with SheThePeople Tanaz said, “Firstly, such a condition should have not occurred and the teams should have not been playing on such a field, if there was a proper pre-event check on the ground conditions and other arrangements conducted before the game. I guess ignorance of the conditions is the main cause because since ages we have been taught to manage with what is available.”
Why such apathy towards women’s football in India? Even though the sport is getting popular among girls slowly and steadily. Tanaz notes, “There is a fear in players to lose the opportunity as it’s rare to get a chance to play such tournaments and so they are ready to risk it all for the game.”
Looking For Solutions
What are the immediate measures needed from the federation then? She claimed, “The organising committee needs to take proper safety measure before the players are asked to play on such grounds, because a delay in a day of play is still affordable than a player losing her career because of the injury that can be caused due to playing on such grounds. The association is giving their best to provide opportunities to women in football, along with that there needs to be focus on safety measures and ground conditions too. Every situation is a lesson, and maybe we learn from this and try and avoid such a scene in future.”
What’s truly sad, is that football has been an important sport for India. At least for men. Now in the last few years women have taken to it with rigour and are making headlines. But there are many reasons why we need to work harder to be a real match to other global teams and leagues.
REASONS FOR DOWNFALL
- Lack of funds from the football federation.
- Not enough matches being played, or practice games.
- Poor exposure or no exposure to high-quality players from overseas.
- State of football clubs is disorganised despite leagues coming into play.
- Not a very popular sport yet among girls at school level where we pollinate the beginnings of a sport.
One of India’s brightest talents in Football, Dalima Chibber, had told SheThePeople.TV, “What India lacks is proper infrastructure for women footballers and a proper pathway. If women’s football gets all the attention it needs, it will surely grow with the opportunities coming up.”
“India, is a country which does not give us a long history of football, women footballer are not receiving what they deserve. Women footballers in the country who are working hard and putting in their best effort into this sport are going unnoticed even though they go out of their ways to play this game. Due to which parents stay unaware of Women’s Football and hence aspiring girls get less support from,” she added.
Shedding some light on the struggles they face to continue with the passion, Dalima claimed, “Getting sponsors as woman footballer is hard since we are not that recognized as sportspersons. Also, the availability of the ground to play is a big challenge. There have been times where I had to go to the park and practice with my father. But the biggest hurdle is when people start questioning my career choice being a woman footballer, criticising my passion at every step.”
“I feel women’s football lacks the financial security and support. It is hard for us to think of sustaining on the money we get from playing. Most of the players are working side by side which hampers training schedule as it is also important for us to financially support our families. Since some players are working, one major problem is to get holidays sanctioned by the firms each time we aim to hit the playground for practice,” she sighed.
We asked Nadiya Nighat, Kashmir’s first female football coach, what does she think the government should do for the betterment of the sport. “Encouragement both financially and in the shape of facilities is key. By providing facilities, infrastructure, sports material, Good and Sufficient Coaches, exposure to see and play against and with senior and to players can solve the problems at the ground level. The future honestly looks very bleak, it needs mountains of efforts on all sides,” a disappointed coach said.
Iconic football player Oinem Bembem Devi earlier said in an interview that the government needs to promote sports with a desperate call for funding more women. She cites the major problem being at the initial stages of learning a sport. To solve this problem, Bembem suggested that the government should come up with “a comprehensive sports programme at the school-level.” In her view, this will encourage girls to be as serious about sports as boys from a very young age. It will also unleash a stream of sports athletes in the country.
Goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan is the first Indian female footballer to play for a professional club in the United Kingdom in 2015. Talking about women in sport, she said, “We (women footballers) don’t have a very long history in India. But a lot of things have changed for better, a lot more girls have started playing the game, a lot more opportunities are there now. That’s a major boost for us.”