New Delhi: India is set to host a second FIFA tournament when the U-17 Women's World Cup 2020 begins on November 2 and the international federation's Chief Women's Football Officer Sarai Bareman believes the tournament will have a positive impact on the women's football ecosystem in the country.
On Tuesday in New Delhi, the official slogan, match schedule and host cities for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup India 2020, were unveiled by FIFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC). The group stage matches will be held in four cities - Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. The quarter-finals will take place in Bhubaneswar, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Navi Mumbai. The two semi-finals will be hosted in Bhubaneswar and Navi Mumbai while the third place match and the final will be held in DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
16 teams will compete across 32 matches to lift the trophy on 21 November in Navi Mumbai.
Even as the event and the tournament sheds a positive light on women's football in India, the current Indian women's football ecosystem is broken. There are two national competitions for the women footballers - Indian Women's League and National Championship (with both running for less than a month). Apart from these two, the state leagues are irregular and short while the university games are also very few. While there are Baby Leagues for U-8s and U-10s, where little girls are introduced to the game with either a mixed format or all-girls teams, there is a lack of pathway till the universities for the players as well as lack of viability of taking up the sport professionally - accounting for players droping out after college.
This year, though, the Khelo India U-17 Women's League is being held or has been held in various states. The Kerala U-17 Women's League got over a couple of days ago while, Delhi's league is going on. The league was completed in West Bengal, Punjab and Manipur. The tournament is in pipeline in Maharashtra.
Despite the lack of overall structure of age-group women's football, Bareman said India was awarded the World Cup due to the success of the 2017 U-17 Men's World Cup and clear commitment from AIFF president Praful Patel and the Government of India.
"They said to us expressively and have also continued to show since being awarded the tournament that they have a lot of meaning behind their words. FIFA will invest into this competition an unprecedented level of funds into its legacy and it's something that's being matched by the Government and the AIFF. And I think the girls in the country deserve it," Bareman told reporters at the sidelines of the event.
This year's IWL was 20-days long and the loopholes in the way the state leagues are organised continued but Bareman said it was important to put a global context to the matter.
"There are very few countries in the world who are having professional women's league, in North America and predominantly in Europe where women are paid to play football. So I think it's important to have that context in mind. It is important to look at the positives and last week, Gokulam Kerala FC won their first IWL and the league has now been going on for four years and it's been growing exponentially.
"We are now seeing a high-profile Indian women's player signed by the Rangers - the first women's player to be playing professionally elsewhere. These are all positives and the U-17 Women's World Cup will positively impact the entire ecosystem in India," Bareman said at the press conference.
Time to #KickOffTheDream India! As the country prepares to host the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup later this year, here’s official slogan for the tournament. Join us in wishing our girls the very best as they prepare to take field in their first ever World Cup. #U17WWC pic.twitter.com/QefiHsxomw — Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) February 18, 2020
INDIA'S U-17 TEAM
India U-17 women's national team is currently playing a tournament in Turkey against Romania and in the first match, it drew 3-3 with B Mariyammal scoring a brace. While the performance and the result was encouraging, there have always been questions around these exposures tours and the level of competition in it.
AIFF's technical director Isac Doru assured that India were playing the U-17 national team of Romania and that the result was genuinely big.
"I'm from Romania and I can assure you that India has done really well against the Romanian national U-17 team. I personally spoke to the Romanian federation and got fixed a very competitive set of games for the Indian national team. The national U-17 team of Romania has three professional players," Doru said.
India U-17 women's national team that's playing in Romania. (Photo Credit: @IndianFootball)
Patel further gave an assurance that they were not playing a casual tournament.
Patel went on to highlight the work that the federation is putting in getting the team ready for a huge occasion like the World Cup. Patel said there was no women's football structure in India before but in the past few years, AIFF has "put in place a structure which is almost parallel to the structure of men's football, including starting the women's league."
He spoke about India's game against Romania and highlighted the importance of the result and performance.
"Not to say that it gets us in line to win the World Cup in November but it reflects that our U-17 team is not a pushover and is evolving. We have not left any stone unturned and with the support of the Ministry of Youth Affairs, we are getting all infrastructure and support mechanism for the team. We acknowledge that if we as a national team, men's or women's, start doing well, it will get more following for the game in our country and we are doing all we can."
Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju said that the government has now put in place a structure for women's football and build a pathway with Khelo India U-17 Women's League and Khelo India University Games. He then asked Association of Indian Universities and All India School Federation to ensure that every school and college has a football team, especially for women's football.
"A proactive government will lead to better teams and that's how Indian football will improve. With India hosting U-17 Women's World Cup, in a couple of years, I am sure the Indian national women's team's ranking will rise, and faster than men. Today also India is ranked higher in women rankings than men," Rijiju said.