Last year, Indian women's footballer Dalima Chhibber moved to Canada to pursue a Masters in Sports Psychology and play football in the various women leagues. One of the important reasons for moving out, besides gaining more football experience and pursuing studies, was to take care of her finances as a women footballer.
"I did not get enough sponsors, stakeholders to invest their money. I have not received that kind of support from people when I asked for. I can see a future as a footballer but I cannot see football sustaining me as a person. That is why I opted for Canada to play there, also complete my Masters because you need to sustain yourself financially while playing football," Chhibber had told Firstpost before leaving for Canada last year.
Managing finances has been a major concern for women footballers in India. A few days back, Firstpost carried a report on how difficult it is going to be for female players to pursue football during and after COVID-19 as Indian economy has been severely affected due to the pandemic, with salaries of players taking a serious hit and clubs facing financial crisis. Chhibber, who has captained the Indian national team, resonated the same fears, saying the future of women football will be a big concern courtesy COVID-19.
Explaining the difficulties for a woman footballer to pursue the sport, she said, "If I want to make a career in football in India? I can do that. Would I be able to depend on a football career in India? No, I cannot."
The 22-year-old said that with clubs not giving year long contracts, the players' financial dependency on football reduces, which leads to them taking up other jobs to support themselves.
"The financial aspects are not great. At the end of the day, you need finances to get your life going. There is not much I can do towards finances if I am just playing football. It is still a sport that is growing in the women's category. We do not have year-long contracts with the club. We are not involved in so many activities with the club who will pay for a year. So, that is where these kinds of things become difficult. We know the pay gap. It is all over the world. Even when we go abroad, we see many women footballers working side by side so that they are able to play because they love the game. To have life going. That is the one major problem," she said.
With the women footballers already getting paid way less than the men, Chhibber fears the COVID-19 situation will further worsen the condition in the country.
"I can say that such things can happen. Financially we have seen some big organisations being hit. There is no rotation of money," she said, "People are losing jobs. Salaries of a lot of players are going to be hit. What fears me the most is the salaries of women's footballers will be hit, which is not that much in the first place. In the end, if we compare men's and women's football, it is the women's football which will be impacted."
In July, All India Football Federation (AIFF) brought a much-needed change in giving lincesing criteria for the clubs, where it made it mandatory for clubs to field a women's team. Chhibber says that it is a step in right direction.
"Clubs like Mohun Bagan, Chennayin FC, Odisha FC, they are the big names in Indian football. They have a huge following. If these clubs field a women's team, then everybody would be looking up and saying 'ok this is my favourite club, and they have a women's team as well. Let me check who is on the team.' That is how there is more fan involvement. We have seen a rise in number of fans in women's football but still, it is not as much as it is there for men's football.
"Licensing criteria will help spread awareness of women's football. It will help reach the masses and get involvement from various people. It is a step in the right direction. IWL was a big step and it has helped women's footballers in many ways. Having ISL and I league women's clubs will be a huge help. We will see many young footballers come up," said Chhibber.
Chhibber also said that India hosting the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup next year and the AFC Women's Asian Cup in 2022 is also a great development for it will allow those who don't watch women's football access to the live action.
"I feel it would catch the eye of people, around the world and in India. People will get more involved. Asian Cup is a big international tournament. It will give people a chance to look at national teams. Give them a chance to watch games live. That will also help youngsters coming up. It will give a chance for fans to see how the national team is shaping up. People in India hardly get any chance to see the national team playing. That in itself will be such a big advantage. Women's football will be able to reach out to people."