Saturday 23 September 2023, 10:00

‘It’s not a challenge, it’s an opportunity’ - India aim to supercharge women’s football

  • India are putting a focus on building a strong youth structure

  • Short-term and long-term goals focus on building nation’s women’s football ecosystem

  • India hosted FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup and AFC Asian Women’s Cup last year

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ will surely be marked by future generations as a turning point for women’s football. The likes of Germany, Brazil and Canada were, almost unthinkably, eliminated in the group stage. In their place were a host of knockout stage debutants. Any reservations about expansion to 32 teams were expelled in the most emphatic fashion imaginable. Investment has provided early dividends for various nations with Morocco at the vanguard following rapid on and off-field growth. It is a template that others in all corners of the globe can follow.

One such nation eager to grasp the moment is India. Now the world’s most populace nation, India offers huge potential. “It’s not a challenge, it’s an opportunity,” said Hem Kaur Sidhu, Head of Women’s Football at the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on the side lines of the FIFA Women's Football Convention in Sydney. It is a single sentence that neatly encapsulates the possibilities on offer for all of FIFA’s Member Associations as women’s football grows at warp speed.

India hosted the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup last year - their first global women’s tournament – and grasped the unique opportunity to build a legacy with both hands. Earlier, India hosted the AFC Asian Women’s Cup with the two elements adding to what proved hugely significant year for the local game. With a focus on constructing a pyramid built on strong foundations, the AIFF backed by government support, launched U-17 competitions across an astonishing 31 cities over the past year. It comes on the back of similar tournaments in younger age groups, with the senior national league also expanded.

“We’re creating that pathway,” adds Sidhu. “It’s a normal pathway at the moment, a youth pathway to get to football – elite football – and this will slowly expand into an elite pathway. “All our state associations, they're all on board. They're all up for women's football. If they weren't, we wouldn't be developing the way we are.” The AIFF have put a 25-year women’s football strategy in place, incorporating a short-term goal of being ranked among Asia’s top-eight by 2027. And the early signs are promising with the U-17 team reaching continental stage two qualifying for the first time.

At a broader level, India’s massive potential for growth can play an important part in FIFA’s stated goal of reaching 60 million female footballers worldwide by 2026. “We grew up with cricket but we have the passion for football. We have the ability, we have the talent. This grassroots programme is helping us give the opportunity for the kids who have the talent to showcase it, come into the elite system and play for the country. We have the talent, it’s just untapped. “Go big or go home. We’re going big.” The FIFA Women's Football Convention took place in Sydney between 18-19 August. You can now find all keynote speeches and panel discussions available here.

Women's Football