When Gokulam Kerala lifted this season’s Indian Women’s League(IWL) title they were the only team amongst the clubs in the top two divisions of Indian football to also field a Women’s club in the tournament.
A testament to the sad state of affairs in Women’s football in the country. Of all the current clubs in in both the I-league and Indian Super league, only Gokulam Kerala FC, East Bengal and FC Goa have Women’s team, of which, Gokulam is the only one that competes in the national domestic tournament in India, the IWL.
The AIFF recently urged the clubs to form Women’s teams for the IWL, insisting that Women’s football in the country cannot be sustainable without the participation of the clubs. One can’t help but wonder what full-fledged participation by the clubs could potentially do to the sport. Say, for example, Bala Devi on loan to BFC from their partner club Rangers FC, squaring up against Aditi Chauhan of Gokulam under the floodlights in a packed stadium in the Transtadia in Ahmedabad. A well organised, planned and broadcasted tournament where the raw, homegrown talent of KRYPHSA FC and Sethu FC would be on display for the whole country to see, and not just those who follow women’s football diligently. Well, one can dream.
The current infrastructure and interest are a long shot away from that. The most general excuse, for the lack of a better word, stated by the clubs is a lack of interest and sponsors, which is a Catch 22 situation because when the big sponsors come in, the general public interest goes up, and when the interest is up, sponsors come in. A never-ending loop.
With Indian hosting the U-17 World Cup in 2021 from February to March, there is no better opportunity for the clubs to make the move towards women’s football. There has been no response from any of the clubs so far regarding Indian FA’s proposal, and given the financial situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not look likely that any of the clubs will be able to field their own teams in the IWL 2021.
But, there is no dearth of talent in the country, we can do better than just 12 teams that play in IWL. Since all the clubs already have a grassroots structure in place, they are better equipped to step foot into the women’s game in the near future. They need not look too far for inspiration, Gokulam Kerala has done a fantastic job with their professional approach, even monetarily smaller clubs like Sethu and KRYPHSA have a very good structure in place that can be emulated if not bettered.
With the upswing in viewership likely after the Women’s U-17 World Cup, the stakeholders involved would do well strike when the iron is hot, it is now or never.