Women’s Football in India: Gender Disparity or True Development?


With 2022 fast approaching, India looks to host two major football events. But what is the current situation of women’s football in India? Is it genuinely developing, or is discrimination slowing it down?

India — a country full of colours and home to approximately 1.38 billion people. It might not be the most heard name for football, but is undoubtedly on its way to making a mark.

The country is ready to host two major football events — the Asian Cup and the U17 World Cup. The Indian Women’s National Team hopes to make an impact in these tournaments.

While this is very appealing on the surface, a lot is hiding from the world’s eyes.  

Governing Body and Funding 

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is the governing body of football in India. In comparison, the government pays for the leagues and national tournaments. AIFF is responsible for promoting and developing women’s football in India.

FIFA, because of Covid, had allocated a sum of $1.5 million for every Federation, including India. An additional special grant of $500,000 was also included, specifically for women’s football.

Regardless, talk of corruption within the AIFF about said money has been high. The lack of development certainly adds to the discussion.  

Leagues (Indian Women’s League)  

While India is yet to have a professional league, a semi-professional tier started in 2016, the Indian Women’s League (IWL), played in a round robin Format.

A workshop was conducted back then with the men’s Indian Super League (ISL) teams. The hope was that the sides would bring forward their women’s teams. 

AIFF President Praful Patel had decided to have a minimum of 4-5 teams from ISL participate in the IWL. However, other than Pune City FC, no other ISL team had a women’s side. They did not even consider the possibility of having a women’s team.

Six teams, including Pune City, went on to play the first-ever season of the Indian Women’s League.  

IWL 2019-20 champions Gokulam Kerala FC

With the first season done, in came a plethora of problems. The same teams do not participate every year due to funding. The teams have no idea when the league will start, as there is no fixed date.

At times, the start of the league announcement comes two weeks before its actual commencement.  

It is essential to understand that IWL only happens for around two months in one calendar year. It is a somewhat cynical approach towards women’s football in India that most ISL or I-League clubs are yet to introduce a women’s team. And do not forget how very few games are available for professional footballers in a calendar year.  

“IWL has provided a platform for aspiring girls to showcase their talent regularly. There will be an increased number of matches and teams in the IWL. We need the involvement of the stakeholders. I urge clubs and the State Associations to invest in women’s football and take interest.”

– Praful Patel, President, AIFF.  

Difficulties in joining the IWL

It’s worth noting that, while Patel claims that the IWL has offered a platform for aspiring female football players, this couldn’t be further from the truth. No team can enter the IWL directly and must first compete in their state leagues. Furthermore, the time of these state leagues coincides with the dates of the IWL.

The qualification process is a mess for the rest who aren’t a part of the state league winners with no specific criteria.

In the 2019/20 season, reigning champions Sethu FC did not wish to participate as the Khelo-India University Games coincided with the league games. Most players from their team were University students.

Eventually, the club participated but was not able to form a good squad.

AIFF’s Promises and the Pandemic 

AIFF has made many promises but is yet to fulfil them. The Federation had promised to use the build-up to the Asian Cup to promote women’s football in India. It’s proving to be another one of those false statements as there are hardly any updates of the international or league games.  

Patel promised more support to the women’s team, but that is questionable as there is zero information about the U17 team with the World Cup this close.

Thomas Dennerby, the U17 coach promoted to take over the Senior Team, now leaves the manager spot for the underage team empty. With essentially no coach and no information on the team, the AIFF isn’t living up to its promises. 

“Women team’s FIFA ranking is better than the men’s team, which is very good when we had less attention to women’s football compared to men’s.”

Patel said in a virtual interaction with the members of the U-17 Women’s World Cup team with Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju in attendance. 
AIFF President Praful Patel on more support to Women’s Football

The Pandemic has proven difficult for the world and the football community, especially women’s football. But with the world getting back on its feet, AIFF has done little to nothing for women’s football. Was the Pandemic used as an excuse? AIFF boasted about successfully creating a bio bubble for the men’s league.

Why wasn’t it doing the same for the women? The States successfully organised their leagues, too, but what stopped the AIFF from doing the same? 

Short Term Developments 

The Federation has made some questionable choices in the event of most upcoming tournaments. There is a development spike just before a game, but what happens after the matches? We never hear about them again.

Last year, AIFF asked U17 players to prepare for the U20 as the WWC stood cancelled for the time due to the pandemic. There was never any follow up with regards to this.

No league for the underage girls while the boys enjoy playing in the ISL. Another promise that was unfulfilled as the U17 players were promised game time before the WWC. There was no IWL in 2020.  

Ecosystem and Sustenance 

India comes under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It seems as if there is no fundamental structure within the AFC mandating teams to have a women’s team, which allows the AIFF not to have a set of rules for the same. The current situation seems to be a result of the lack of structure.  

Indian Football does not look serious about women’s football. It only has a team to tick the boxes while providing unpaid salaries, corruption, and horrible wages and contracts.  

“We Feel Like Vegetables in Market Due to Bargaining Around Salaries.”

– Indian Women’s Team Captain Ashalata Devi

Is there a Top-Down approach within the AFC and AIFF? To push something to get more and try to make it self-sustaining? A lot is lacking in this system as the funds get depleted before they reach the underage teams. How do you make something self-sustaining if the investment is lacking? 

In the following section, we discuss Media, Promotions, Indian Mindset, Future, and Supporters’ Opinions in further detail. Keep an eye out for updates. 

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