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From Dubai to Bengaluru, Anoushka's story is all about parenting done right

18-year-old Anoushka Saraf has had just what every budding footballer in India needs, extremely supportive parents.

Anoushka Saraf parents Karnataka Womens League Bangalore United FC

Anoushka Saraf's parents at the Bangalore Football Stadium cheering her on


Sayan Chatterjee

Updated: 16 March 2021 9:10 AM GMT

While this season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has garnered a lot of attention from all over the country, what is also heartwarming is that women's football in India has made a strong comeback post the pandemic scare. A number of state federations have already kickstarted their domestic leagues and with the U17 World Cup coming up next year, a healthy dose of women's football till then should go a long way in whetting the appetite of football fans.

One of the states which has seen encouraging signs in terms of support for the women's game is Karnataka. The Karnataka State Football Association's (KSFA) Intimacy Women's Super Division League for the 2020-21 season has been chugging along perfectly since the start of the event back in early February. This is the third edition of the tournament which features 10 teams with the eventual winners guaranteed a place in the Indian Women's League (IWL) scheduled to be held later this year. After the first five rounds of games, Bangalore United FC find themselves at the top of the table with 13 points and one player who has caught the eye of the cheering crowd every time she has taken the field is young Anoushka Saraf.

A fruitful journey from abroad

18-year-old Anoushka has always been a 'sporty' kid. Her interest in horse-riding, swimming and tennis eventually led her to the beautiful game, much to the delight of her father who is an ardent FC Barcelona fan. Having spent most of her childhood in Dubai, the youngster started playing football in school before her parents decided to come back to India in 2017, choosing Bengaluru as their home. Since then, Anoushka has been a regular for Bangalore United, one of the most prominent clubs in the city which has a number of youth sides competing in various competitions throughout the year, as well as the Karnataka women's team for whom she has played in tournaments in Agartala and Odisha.

The balancing act

For Anoushka's parents, her involvement in various sports has invariably had an impact on their lifestyle choices. Opting for an international school in Bangalore that provides access to horse-riding and is accommodating of her footballing commitments has been key, as has the time and effort that is dedicated by the entire family to ensure she gets to do what she is genuinely interested in. Nothing sums that up better than when her mom says, "Ultimately it is her choice what she wants to do. Our job is to help her get exposed to different things before she can make that decision." The arduous journey back and forth on training days which takes up at least 5-6 hours out of her parents' work schedule is also an aspect that the family has seemingly worked around quite well.

The battle against anonymity

Even for someone like Anoushka who comes from a somewhat privileged background, pursuing football in India hasn't always been a bed of roses. The lack of infrastructure, recognition and money is something that can be quite blatant and discouraging at times.

The Bangalore United team usually trains at their ground near the National College campus. Being a multipurpose ground at the heart of the city, many others use it for different sports when the club isn't training. While the club has separate restroom arrangements for its players, only recently have restroom facilities been constructed for others who might come here for the occasional kick-about. Besides, at least here they have done the needful when it comes to the very basic necessities. For most other grounds all over the country, this is still too much to expect for even at this day and age. It is little things like these that dissuade a lot of youngsters, especially girls, from taking up sports as something more than just a hobby and prevent them from thinking of it as a livelihood.

The way forward

For now, Anoushka is happy improving her game while playing in a side which has quite a few experienced players in their roster. Having played a peripheral in the IWL a couple of seasons before, the explosive right back has set her sights on this season's championships and hopes to take the next step in terms of her development and have a shot at an India call-up. Having the support of her parents has been crucial thus far and will continue being so but what upcoming players like her need more of is visibility, something that can only happen when people start taking an active interest in women's football. "It is slowly getting better but there needs to be more corporate involvement in terms of investment and sponsorships in women's leagues to take it to the next level and improve the overall ecosystem," are her father's parting words. And we couldn't agree more.

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