Editor’s Pick: India needs to do more for women’s football

Both organisations and fans need to show more support for women’s football in India.

Football is the most followed sport across the globe. It is the second-largest sport followed in India. However, when it comes to football team rankings, India remains far from the elite. When we talk about women’s football, India had barely ever been a part of the conversation. Things have changed for football in India during 2019 and the women’s team played a crucial role in this change.

The growth has been seemingly unstoppable in the last few seasons. In the first two months of 2020, we have seen the women’s team scale great heights. To put it in simple terms, the Indian women footballers have been outshining the men footballers in several ways for a while and the time has come when they are given the due credit for what they have achieved so far.

The National Women’s team first dominantly lifted the 2019 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup, brushing off every opponent with extreme ease and grace. Winning the trophy in itself is a commendable effort but doing it in a dominant fashion makes it even more impressive. They scored 18 goals in a mere four games and conceded just once. In the process, India extended the unbeaten run in the tournament’s history to 23 games and clinched the trophy for a record fifth time.

Currently, the women’s team is ranked 55th in FIFA Elo Ratings which is considerably better than the men’s team ranking. The men’s team is sitting in the 109th position. The Indian women’s team is the 13th best team in Asia. They have won two and drew one game in the women’s Olympics qualifiers in the Asian division.

In terms of individual glory, the likes of Tanvie Hans and Bala Devi have been leading the way forward. Hans has featured for the likes of Tottenham Hotspurs and Fulham only to return to the country and participate in national league competitions. On the other hand, Bala Devi recently became the first Indian footballer ever to bag a contract with Scottish giants Rangers FC. Devi has netted 52 goals in 58 matches for India and scored 38 goals in her first two seasons of Indian Women’s League (IWL).

IWL was founded in 2016 to provide women players with a platform to showcase their talent. This was a major step taken by AIFF to develop and grow women’s football in the country. The step was mainly taken after the consistent performance by the international team in the SAFF Cup.

India is set to host the U-17 Women’s FIFA World Cup in 2021. It was previously scheduled to be held in the second half of 2020 but has now been postponed due to the pandemic. India is also set to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2022, giving momentum to women’s football in the country. The U-17 women’s squad will look to create history as they may have the advantage of home conditions and perform better than what their male counterparts could do in the men’s U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2017.

One of the major issues for women’s football has been the lack of good infrastructure for training. Hosting international tournaments may not help in the performance of the team but it will help in setting up international standard facilities that can later be used by Indian players.

Considering the steady improvement shown by the women’s team, it is plausible to see them playing in the World Cup before the men’s team. To achieve this dream, it is time for AIFF and Football Sports Development (FSDL) to step up and provide conditions for women to flourish in football. With the right moves, the amount of talent that India’s women footballers possess it is bound to shine on the international stage, sooner rather than later.

One of the major steps taken by AIFF in July earlier this year was to make it mandatory for clubs to have a women’s team as part of the licensing criteria. Apart from these changes, India is also set to conduct the first-ever amateur women’s football league in Delhi. The league will have six teams of seven players each. It is an attempt to encourage more women to take up the sport professionally. More such steps from AIFF will help women’s football to grow and flourish in the country.

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