Indian Women’s Football: Fans Talk Gender Disparity

India Women's National Team
Indian federation promises a women’s league and targets Asian Cup qualification.

With 2022 fast approaching, India looks to host two major football events. But what is the current situation of women’s football in India?

Following part one of our look at the state of women’s football in India, we’ll now delve deeper into gender disparity. This time, we’ll look specifically at angles such as media, promotions, Indian mindset, future outlook, and supporters’ opinions.

Media, promotions and fan engagement

The one department where the AIFF has massively failed is this. There have been glimpses of updates on social media here and there but nothing substantial.   

In the 2019/20 IWL season, the press had excellent coverage of the league and covered every game. The build-up to the season was massive. Interestingly, for the first time, there was also a photoshoot to add to the hype. But bear in mind, this was the first and the only time the IWL was promoted to such an extent.   

Also to be noted that this was the first time Kerala’s Gokulam FC was participating. Gokulam FC is one of the upcoming clubs that are very much investing in a women’s team. The 2019/20 season champions are currently playing in the AFC Asian Club Championship 2020/21 pilot tournament.   

However, AIFF has lacked in giving official information like team news, line-ups, scores. They have lacked in providing any live updates. While fans have given up hopes of broadcasting, they anticipated AIFF to provide them with updates at the very least. Because the supporters have been in the dark for a long time, fan involvement has been non-existent. 

With possibly three months left for the Asian Cup, there have been no updates with regards to the broadcasting of the tournament. If that wasn’t enough, after successfully managing to have the team play more international games, the AIFF has again let down the fans by providing no information about the broadcasting for the International Football tournament organized by Brazil.

Indian mindest?

India has progressed a lot regarding its orthodox thinking, but a vast majority of the population continues thinking the same way.   

“Once a man speaks, it is final, an order to be obeyed blindly. Men are sovereign, free and autonomous, in control of the world they inhabit, the women they rule over and the children they beget. In short, part of their freedom lies in having dominion over others, particularly women and ‘servants’.”  

Indian Football does not look like it is serious about women’s football. The teams formed only tick boxes and look like ‘Jack of all trades and master of none.’ The women are not a priority, while the men have full support, even if they are struggling. Men are way behind the women, yet no one talks about that. The men’s team currently ranks 106th on FIFA’s ranking, while the women’s team’s rank is 57th. The mindset is not suitable for women’s football.  Funnily enough, AIFF President Praful Patel has agreed that they have not paid much attention to the women, as mentioned in the previous edition of this article.

The Indian Women’s National Team

Suggestive changes

There is a long way to go, but investing from the bottom could be a start. If AIFF makes it mandatory to have a women’s team, every club will start investing. In context to cricket, the ICC and Cricket Australia mandated that Afghanistan have a women’s squad if the men’s team was to play. Afghanistan had no choice but to keep the women’s squad, thus opening the way for them.   

One possibility is to look into long term investments by forming the team well in advance, rather than short term investments only before a tournament.  

Investment in a more professional league at a national level makes it more sustainable while making club football popular. Investment only at the international level is not the answer, as the tournaments have spaced out over the years. Club football allows the players to be more in form and play consistently, giving better performance at the international level.  

Better coverage and investment leads to better performance, and the women’s team is already proving that with their recent performances in the friendly games. 

Future of the game

The future for Indian Women’s Football looks bright with the tournaments coming up and better performances from the National Team. With more clubs investing in women’s teams, it’s undoubtedly paving the way for a better league in the future. Bangalore FC is the latest team to start an underage women’s team before soaring to a senior team. That is undoubtedly a big positive.   

Supporters’ opinions

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that football is incomplete without its fans. And what better way to hear what needs to change than from the fans. I was fortunate enough to talk to a few fans and ask them about their views and opinions.  

Here’s what they had to say…

“There should be a proper calendar. Right now, there’s a period with absolutely no activity, followed by all the tournaments jam-packed together. The Senior Nationals should be streamed at least on Facebook, and IWL should broadcast on TV. The focus should be more on grassroots development instead of spending on fancy international tournaments. The U-17 WWC is only a year away, and still, there is zero preparation. The list of players shortlisted is also not revealed. There are no camps or friendlies planned.

It’s already too late; it shouldn’t delay any further. The Federation needs to be more transparent and not keep everything a secret. The communication has to be improved. To date, there has not been an official announcement on the new assistant coach; we had to figure it out on our own. The NT’s friendlies must be live-streamed. There should be more info put out on the WNT. Right now, they don’t even put out a matchday/starting XI/HT/FT poster as they do for the men.”

– Jenisha Rani

“For there to be progress in the game, we should ensure that our women footballers are given equal opportunities that one gives to the men – access, platform, support and respect. Every stakeholder should step up and fulfil the role that they have taken up. There is much work that is to be done in Indian Women’s Football. From making sure that the essential requirement of the professional athletes is met, accessibility to grounds, a proper structure of the entire ecosystem, communications and marketing as well as educating our society and empowering women, not just women footballers but others who are working in the industry. I see much potential in Indian women’s football; that’s why it is crucial to ensure that we do the game and our footballers justice.”

– Philarima Hynniewta

Some great points put forth. Is liquidity the real problem?

“The way boys have had a chance to prove themselves, the exact same needs to happen for the girls. Changes are straightforward. We as fans need to be more vocal; this is the first crucial thing. If the fans and media keep questioning, how long will AIFF ignore everybody? Structurally, there need to be regular functions of everything. Like the State league should be conducted, let all the State team champions participate in one league as Tier 1 before the IWL.

League is essential; you will have some players who will participate who can later go to other teams. Lack of liquidity is a significant concern. But if AIFF as a board won’t solve it, or won’t help women’s football get sponsorship, they should resign. They are there for this job. The ISL and I-League clubs’ license conditions should be amended, and a women’s team should be mandatory. The more teams there are, the more players there are. AIFF should spearhead this endeavour.”

– Umesh Kumar Dharua
ISL side Bengaluru FC announced plans to enter into women’s football / KARIM JAAFAR/Getty Images

While many supporters pointed out a common flaw in the system, here’s what the others had to say…

“I think we are doing a great job trying to bring out grassroots talents, but we are not doing enough to improve women’s football in the lower grassroots level for the underprivileged women who are talented but do not have the resources to come forward.”

– Tanya Mohanty

“Not being able to support one’s national team fully has to be one of the most frustrating experiences of a football fan. How does one support a team one can’t watch? Therein lies the biggest problem with women’s football in India. There is no coverage. The Indian Women’s National Team has played five friendlies in October 2021. Not one match has either been streamed or broadcasted. And this is the team whose nation will host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2022. When the national team gets so little importance, one can only imagine the state of women’s football at the domestic level.

The IWL – the highest level of women’s football in India was suspended last season after the pandemic hit. It’s been over a year, and the league still hasn’t resumed, and as notified by the AIFF, it won’t be resuming anytime soon. It can get increasingly frustrating when we see the talent and potential in the team and their future as fans. But we see no movement towards the cultivation and development of that talent. We can only hope that with growing interest in the game and increased pressure on AIFF, we see the game moving exponentially forward soon.” 

– Ria Raichaudhuri

With the hope that the opinions of these fans and many more would awaken the eyes of the AIFF. Indian Women’s Football opens the road forward for countless girls who aspire to be what they want to be.

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