IWL 2018 and neglected plight of women’s football in Northeast- Do we still have hope?

IWL 2018 and neglected plight of women’s football in Northeast- Do we still have hope?

By SHWETA RAJ KANWAR | April 22, 2018

While football has been a household sport in many states of Northeast India where men and women both are seen to play this game with gusto and enthusiasm, it was discouraging to see that only one state- Manipur represented the entire region in a national football league for women at the IWL 2018. It is true that players from Manipur have been among the top scorers in Indian women’s football but women’s football under AIFF was certainly expected to rope in more teams from the region given the fact that the sport is hugely popular.

Eastern Sporting Union, Manipur and Rising Students Club, Odisha pose for photographs before the IWL 2018 finals which was won by Odisha

The Indian women’s football team came into existence in 1975 and is more than 10 places higher in world ranking than the Indian men’s football team with current ranking at 59. The men’s rank at 169 in the world!

But despite the commendable performance by women in football, the state of the sport seems to be appalling- thanks to the disparity meted out by the AIFF which was clearly evident at the time of the Indian Women’s league 2018 which recently concluded in Shillong, Meghalaya on April 14,2018.

Although I must agree that the AIFF’s initiation of the Indian Women’s League in 2016 was a laudable move and that the fact that the league was brought to the Northeastern state of Meghalaya this year was a good thing. But again, with no team from 7 other states of Northeast India (Except 2  from Manipur) being the face-savers for the region shows how neglected the state of women’s football is, not only in Northeast but also in India. Let us look at the reasons why I make these assumptions:

#1 Lack of Funds from the federation:

A look at the strategic plan budget of the AIFF 2014-17 reveals exactly this.

As per the table, out of a total 62.74 crore granted to the AIFF for the mentioned time frame, the funds utilised for National Teams (Men) amounts to Rs. 29.66 cr while for National Teams (Women) amounts to Rs. 15. 27 crore, almost half of that for men.

Again, a closer look at the amount spent for Grassroots reveal that Rs. 3.15 cr has been spent so far. And yet we saw no new women football team from the region!

And did you know how much does the US (the dominant team in women’s football in the world) invests in its team? A whopping $241960000 which in Indian Rupees comes upto Rs.15443701900 (US Soccer Financial statements)

Eastern Sporting Union coach, Oinam Bem Bem Devi had also admitted after the final match at the IWL 2018 that there was a huge disparity between the prize money in men’s and women’s football team and that this gap needs to be bridged at the earliest for a better future of women’s football.


#2 Lack of promotional activities

Another major setback for the women’s football is the lack of proper promotional activities. Citing the example of the recently concluded Indian Women’s League in Meghalaya, a large population of Meghalaya was not even aware of the ongoing National Women’s Football League causing a dismal turnout in each of the matches!

Infact, most media houses too were not briefed about the event in advance- forget the promotional posters in and around the city of Shillong, there were no online banners to promote the event as well.

While in the case of men’s league posters of Sunil Chettri marks every kilometre of the home state, in case of IWL, even when the ‘Durga of Indian Football’- Oinam Bem Bem Devi’s team makes it to the finals, there is no hullabaloo.

And interestingly, the tagline of this year’s IWL was #SHEPOWER!

Talking about press interaction at the IWL matches, despite dismal publicity, even when some journalists did find the time to cover the event (not finals), no regular post match conferences were held for interactions with the players and the coach. And on the final day of the match, despite the fact that the captain of the Indian women’s football team Ngangom Bala Devi was present at the venue, no interaction with her was scheduled for the press, and a meager 5 minute interaction was scheduled for the media with the coaches of the playing team. With such an unorganized set up for the media fraternity, there is hardly any doubt as to why the women’s team from the region is not even being recognized by the media, leave alone the people!

Speaking to the writer, Eastern Sporting Union (Manipur) coach Bembem Devi had also admitted that the MFA should have spread the word in terms of event promotion given the meager audience and it true that the fan support received by men cannot even be compared to women’s football.

In view of this, when asked by TNT- The Northeast Today for the reason of a dismal turnout, the CEO of Meghalaya Football Association Arki Nongrum admitted that had there been more publicity about the event, the turnout would have definitely been much better while adding, “The match timings also matter. Some matches are placed at pretty odd timings on weekdays hence making it difficult for children as well as fans to attend the match. Many matches are scheduled at 8am, 11am and 3pm which normally a busy schedule for people. To top it up, the fact that there was no local club playing added to it all”.  However, he stressed on the fact that with proper publicity, the turnout would have certainly been better.

Nongrum also emphasized on the importance of a local club in the league while adding that the league was more of an eye opener for him. It may be mentioned that the role of MFA in bringing the IWL 2018 to Northeast India cannot be ignored.

#3 No live screening in any sports or news channel

Thanks to AIFF’s great event publicity, not even a single sports channel streamed the match live and the only place where it was live streamed was on the Facebook page of Indian Football Team where the final match was viewed live on the page by only 34000+ viewers gathering only about 1k reactions and 123 shares. And well, the crowd at the stadium mostly comprised of the members of Manipur Student’s Union, Shillong, students of certain schools who were forced to attend the match at the behest of their attendance and some really concerned Shillongites who might have taken pity at the plight of women’s football like the self including of course the organizers, some chief guests and their escorts.

#4 Not tapping vital resources from vital places   

One of the biggest developments that has gone under the radar in 2017 is the introduction of the Baby Leagues that was initiated first in two places- Champai in Mizoram and in Mumbai, Maharashtra. And yet, there was no team from Mizoram representing the state this time in the IWL. All in all, there were only 7 teams in the IWL this year-

Eastern Sporting Union – Manipur

KYPSHA – Manipur

Rising Students Club – Odisha

Sethu Madurai – Madurai

Gokulam Kerala – Kerala

India Rush – Mumbai

Indira Academy for Sports and Education – Tamil Nadu

Hence the results of grassroot expenditure on tapping resources and training of women footballers is yet to be seen.

Bem Bem Devi also appealed to the organizers to organize more tournaments in other states of Northeast India to ensure more participation of women.

#5 Dependence on funding from an apex authority

A major problem faced by local teams across the country is the lack of funds from the concerned authority. While being dependent on capital for organizing sporting events , many a times, this is used as an excuse for not promoting/being able to promote talents.

“The communities need to have autonomy to organize sports events because only if we start at the grass root level can we grow on a larger scale. It is important that the community halls, the community fields are utilized for various sporting activities as this is how the talents can be tapped and hence nurtured. Money from the central funds is not always a necessity if the motives are genuine. Every time a sports event needs to be organized, money can be collected from the community itself and the same can be done when the Baby League is introduced in Meghalaya. And once the community begins to take initiatives and generates champions (like champions of Jaiaw, Malki, Happy Valley, etc.,) the MFA can then take it from there and provide them with a wider platform. But, the initiative from the community has to come and this is what we are trying to do through awareness programmes via Touchline and many other initiatives at an individual level”, says Arki Nongrum who is also the Founder of Touchline Northeast.

All is not lost

But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining and the same can be applied to the women’s football, atleast in this part of the region.

In these lines speaking to TNT- the Northeast Today, founder of Athletes Today, Abhishek Sharma from Mumbai has a more positive approach as he says, “The very fact that MFA got IWL to Northeast India is in itself a step forward in creating the much needed awareness thereby changing the perception of people towards women’s involvement in sports. Looking at the positive side, it will only grow for the better. It will take its own time but eventually as we know, slow and steady does win the race so I believe it does good to give this sometime”.

MFA is also en-route to launching its very own Baby League in collaboration with Tata Trusts very soon.  In this regard, Arki says that 10 per cent of the total members of the team will be girls. The need for a competitive platform whereby kids are trained and made ready for the sport is of great significance. This will further enhance women’s participation especially when opportunities are made available to them. Also, the inclusion of a girl’s team in Shillong Premier League might soon be on the cards.

 “Northeast India has a huge talent pool in terms of sports but what is needed is the exposure”, says Abhishek Sharma while adding, “This is the natural birthplace of sports talent- be it hockey, football, weightlifting…look at the number of athletes from Northeast who have earned laurels in the CWG 2018. All this makes it important for people from sports agencies like me to come here and tap the talents. We need to work hand-in-hand with agencies like Touchline and others to identify talents and then nurture them to make them future ready. India will grow in sports only when there is identification and nurturing of talent”.

The writer can be reached at shweta@thenortheasttoday.com and shwetarajkanwar@gmail.com

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