Women’s Football in India was under the shadow of men’s football for the beginning years of football in India. Women’s Football Federation of India (WIFF) had administered the game in 1975 until the early 1990s when they got merged with the AIFF. Women’s football also had its early initiators in the state of West Bengal. Teams in Kolkata, East Bengal, and Mohun Bagan, started women’s football in the 2000–01 season. They participated with many other teams in the Calcutta Women’s Football League. Until the year 1983, women’s football took part in international tournaments like the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. They also won a silver in 1980 at Calicut. In later years the team also struggled and had become weak in status just like the male football team. In 2009-10, The Mumbai Women’s Football League, organized by the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA), was a huge success. It featured many talented players who had played for the national team. Even further, the popularity of the event gave hope that the women’s game could rise in India.
So, on 21 April 2016, after a year since the AIFF started plans for a women’s football league, the AIFF President, Praful Patel, said that a women’s football league would kick off in October 2016. It would consist of six teams, which would expand to eight teams by 2017. After just over two months, on 5 July 2016, the AIFF organized a workshop to discuss the Indian women’s national team and discuss the proposed women’s football league. On 14 October, the AIFF announced that the preliminary rounds for the Women’s League would begin on 17 October 2016 in which ten teams split into two groups of five teams each, with the winner from each group qualifying for the national finals.
The best way in which the Indian women’s football team will have a bigger impact on world football is when they will be groomed in the sport at an early age, through a local club or team and their parents showing good support to them.
Female players like Chitra Gangadharan, Jaanki Kotecha got selected in All-Asian Star Team in 2008–2009. Sujata Kar and Alpana Sil became the first Indian footballers to sign a contract outside India. These players have heavily inspired many girls to take up football as a career. We hope for the best that more such players come up and make India proud.
Currently, the Indian Super League (ISL) is a huge factor playing its role in the Indian Football scene. The introduction of the ISL in 2014 was a great initiative by the AIFF to help players be more active on the field, get more playtime, and also help youngsters to play more competitively. ISL helped in a lot of factors such as finance, reach, investments, advertisements, and mainly gave players an aim and fans a ray of hope for Indian Football.
India’s football team was ranked in the 150 regions in FIFA rankings for a long time. They had even slipped to 173 in 2015. Two years after the launch of the ISL, Indian football has seemed to go in the right direction. India ranked 137 in 2016 and achieved its best FIFA ranking since February 1996, as it ranked 96th position in 2017. Many experts regard ISL to be behind India’s success. Steve Coppell, when working for Jamshedpur FC as a manager, said, “Since the ISL started, the Indian national team has gone from about 170th to 100th in the FIFA rankings, and Stephen Constantine has done a terrific job. I think that the ISL has played a part in it.” India currently ranks 108th in the FIFA football rankings.
Keeping in mind the effect of ISL, we should also consider the current situation where a player has no clear path on which he/she will get the opportunity to play in the big leagues is also a huge drawback. Parents, on the other hand, do not have the utmost confidence in football as a career choice that would provide sustained revenue and have economic stability. These reasons then convert to a lack of support for the child who wishes to pursue a career in football. The grooming of players at an early age is what is majorly missing in their development.
There is still is a lot of ground to be covered by India’s football system to reach its highest potential. New platforms, new tournaments, new talents will surely help India to achieve a much higher rank.
Fingers crossed, let’s hope for the best.