Despite a steady progress in women’s football, the Capital still presents formidable challenges to girls enterprising enough to take up the sport

Given the state of their men counterparts, one might assume that the condition of women’s soccer in India is equally, if not more, abysmal. But in the numbers, a very different and encouraging reality may be found. India ranks 51 in women’s soccer in the world, 99 places ahead of their men counterparts.

But despite the encouraging progress, a lot remains to be done. According to Aditi Chauhan, goalkeeper of the Indian senior team, “Even though soccer is becoming more and more popular, it is still a highly improbable profession, especially for girls. Players are not able to pursue a career in it because of moneyed interests. In Delhi, most players and their parents feel education will fetch them a better economic position than soccer. So soccer is taking a blow at a professional level.”

She points out that money is now being injected into the sport through clubs that are hiring players on salaried contracts, but since it’s a very recent phenomenon, the pay is not very high.

When Mallika Arya of Lady Shri Ram College (LSR), midfielder for the University of Delhi (DU) team, tried to assemble a team in her college for the first time, she did not realise how arduous the task would be. “The first concern was to gather interested girls. Looking for a coach was the next step. For the longest time, I coached the team myself. Although the college was supportive of the initiative, we had to fund ourselves to practice at Siri Fort as our college doesn’t have a soccer field,” she remembers.

According to Suhani Bedi, centre-forward of the Hindustan Football Club, “There are clubs within the city who endeavour to take the game forward by holding private tournaments. They have enough sponsors for these events too. But when enough girls’ teams won’t register, how will the tournament take place?” The Delhi Soccer Association (DSA) needs to step up to make the schedule of the sport more uniform in the city, she adds.

Gaps in the city’s football infrastructure haven’t helped the girls’ cause. Om Chhibber, coach of Jaguar Eves Football Club, decries the lack of grounds for practice. He claims, “I have equipment but there are no designated grounds. I have to look for parks to train them, which are not sufficient for a scientific and technical coaching.”

For some, the problems are even more fundamental, and hence need to be addressed at the very root. “The entrenchment of gender inequality starts at an early age. Girls are confined to play indoors, when boys are encouraged to take interest in outdoor sports. Parents empowering girls is the first step to a better access of sports like soccer for girls,” says Satvir Rana, manager of the same club.

Despite the obstacles, however, Mallika is excited about the way things are changing for the sport. Pallavi Trikha, another midfielder of DU, claims, “In the last seven years that I have been associated with this sport, I have seen tremendous transformation in the game. Recently, Delhi University selected 15 players, including myself, for a rigorous three week-long practice session in New Zealand, fully funded by the University.”

A brilliant effort for those selected, it also helped to recognise what was missing in the way the game was taught and learnt in India. Sophisticated gym and fitness sessions, videography of all matches for pointing out flaws and strengths of each player, and teaching particular tactics to everyone individually were fundamental elements of professional soccer in New Zealand, many of which were missing in Delhi’s game.