On September 20, 2020, Indian men's national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu came up with a post where he professed his love for sketching and how he will now be auctioning those sketches to help the development of women's football in India. He stated that he would double the amount of how much is collected through a sketch and donate to organisations working for the development of the women's game. "We can all do so much more than we think we can," he said in post.
On October 1, he shared that the proceeds from the first sketch auction had been used to provide necessary equipment to Delhi-based Royal Rangers FC. Gurpreet shared with News18.com that they were able to collect Rs 7000 in the first auction and he, "as promised", doubled the amount to help the above-mentioned organisation.
"We have reached out to girls' football clubs and we are trying to collaborate on what all they need. It is actually very hard to find organisations that shows you how much this cause needs help. If you go on Google or Facebook and type women's football academies or organisations, you won't be able to get that many hits. So, I think the number of organisations we have been able to find, we got in touch with.
"We were lucky to get in touch with Royal Rangers FC, which I think is based in Delhi. I personally spoke to them and I also wanted to know what they are doing because you want it to be legit. I want to make sure that it really helps the girls. Royal Rangers FC have quite a bit of girls playing for them and we have helped them with only a little bit from the first auction but I want to do more. I am trying to find other organisations as well," Gurpreet said in a conversation with News18.com.
Gurpreet further said the reason he chose to help with equipment rather than cash is because "it won't give me sleep at night if I don't know where the cash would be going and if the girls are really benefitting out of it."
WHERE THE IDEA CAME FROM
It was during the coronavirus lockdown in Sydney when Gurpreet completed his 'Dexter' sketch and was showing it off to his fiancee Devenish he came up with the idea of this initiative. Gurpreet said that Devenish suggested they do "something creative" with it; after which they thought of starting an Instagram handle for the sketches. "We thought the handle should have some purpose. There were ideas thrown around and we thought maybe we could auction it. And if it's done for a good cause...," he said.
Gurpreet said the initiative is "very important" for Devenish because "she comes to India and sees the situation." Gurpreet said he doesn't want people to think he is "speaking for women" but he wants "to be an ally for feminism".
When asked if he had spoken to any of the women's senior national team footballers regarding the initiative, Gurpreet said he hadn't. However, a source close to the women's national team told News18.com that the female players did not really like the initiative and in fact, felt frustrated by it. "They felt that at a time when the image of women's football being put forth is positive and one of improvement, a men's national team player coming out and doing charity for women's football makes the game seem not-so-serious," the source said on condition of anonymity.
The source raised the question that if Gurpreet really wanted to help, why he didn't come forward when the news broke that some of the U-17 girls were not even getting proper food during lockdown. Gurpreet, however, said that he didn't really know about the situation of those U-17 girls until very recently since he was away in Sydney. He added that he actually feels both gender should get an equal platform and this was his step towards achieving that very aim.
"Some of them feel that even if the intention is good, there are much better ways to speak for the women's game, instead of making it look like a charity case," the source said.
IS THIS THE RIGHT PUSH?
Gurpreet said his initiative is a grassroots programme and aims to empower the girls to pursue their dreams. "It is a sad reality that women are stopped from doing things, it shouldn't be the case. We as men shouldn't have a say in what women can do and what they can't. They should make their own decision. There should be equal opportunities and resources - that's the whole aim. Through this initiative, I want to start a conversation because most people don't want to talk about these things."
Another source close to the women’s national team mentioned that being an influential figure Gurpreet could actually make a push for getting some structure in place for women's football in the country. "The girls have been fighting for lengthening the Indian Women's League (IWL), creating more divisions, increasing the number of competitions, ISL and I-League teams to have women's team - these are issues that should have his focus if he really wants to help the game."
On being questioned about the same, Gurpreet said that he would love to talk to Bengaluru FC and AIFF about the same and welcomed the idea. "I haven't got the opportunity but it's a great idea. We need to start talking about it and not slip it under the rug and bring these things to attention so that things start happening. We should ask women footballers what they want - longer league, more teams - and then we should work towards it," he said.