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Was the Asian Cup 2022 a turning point for women's football in India?

Even though the Asian Cup outing for the Blue Tigresses ended in heartbreak, it has summoned a new dawn of possibilities for the future of Indian women's football.

Indian women football team

Indian women's football team (Source: Indian football/Twitter)


Soumya Bontra

Updated: 8 Feb 2022 4:06 PM GMT

As China lifted the AFC Women's Asian Cup title at D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai, the joy and happiness reflected by the team were evident all the way up to the media box. Just like after every final match, there are two emotions - happiness for the winning team and the other being the sorrow of a tournament coming to an end. This time though while leaving the stadium I felt sadder for a third reason - will we ever witness something like this on the home soil again?

Even before the tournament began, for the first time you could see quite a few people in the country talk about women's football. One can also credit the four-nations tournament where, India played against Brazil and Manisha Kalyan scored a goal to wake the entire nation from its sleep, for getting people's attention towards the Blue Tigresses.

The tournament gave a perfect build-up and showed what exactly India needed for the upcoming Asian Cup 2022, which was being hosted in the country after 43 years. This was to be 'the' moment for the Indian women's football team.

Indian women's football team with Brazilian legend Formiga

Preparations for the prime Asian tournament began in full fledge from December amidst the rise of the coronavirus scare. Locations changed and finally, Maharashtra was granted the opportunity to host the entire tournament in the state. Mumbai Football Arena in Andheri, D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai and Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex in Pune, began to mow their grasses to prepare for this big stature international tournament.

Hosting the Asian Cup in India was looked forward to as a turning point in women's football in the country. Soon, AIFF President and LOC Chairman Praful Patel had shared their thoughts on the preparations for the event.

"Special care has been taken to make sure the best women footballers in Asia are provided with world-class infrastructure across the three venues and also the training sites," Patel said.

"The pitches at all venues have been significantly upgraded to support modern football. Other facilities including dressing rooms, media tribunes, broadcast compounds and hospitality areas have been refurbished. In Pune, new floodlights with LED panels have been installed. And now, we cannot wait for the teams to come to India and play their best game."

This is how hosting a big tournament like Asian Cup brought world-class facilities for women's games in the country.

Posters for the tournament featuring the Indian women's team featured on Mumbai billboards. Even team skipper Ashalata Devi expressed how overwhelmed the team was after seeing the posters at Mumbai airport.

Well luckily, they didn't see that one particular Alex Morgan poster right outside Mumbai Football Arena! People who made the poster must have googled women's football and printed the first result that appeared and that's how many people thought the USA forward Alex Morgan landed on an Asian Cup poster - it did get the Twitter crowd really tizzy and of course, added to the necessary buzz around the tournament.

Though we are thankful that at least some efforts were shown towards the women's game, it still shows how ignorant Federations or organizers can be.

Yet another instance to prove how things are handled when it comes to women's sports was when host country India was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to several COVID-19 cases in the team. While fans blamed the Federation for not handling the situation well, Indian coach Thomas Dennerby blamed AFC. The argument and blames resulted in nothing but unfortunately, India lost a golden ticket to make their World Cup debut, which to date hurts to think about.

However, as the tournament proceeded it turned out to be the 'tournament of underdogs' which shows how much potential all the Asian teams have.

Even if the Blue Tigresses only played one game in the tournament, they still gave us hopes about the World Cup. The goal against Brazil shows the team's potential to perform in a difficult situation and against big teams.

Ashalata Devi's statement after seeing herself on the poster, "Felt my heart speed up, shows how much the fan's support encourages the team." - isn't this what a player lives for, this support and love and acceptance?

Even though we do not know what is next for the Indian women's football team, we hope it is going to be bigger and better for the team. More tournaments, more world-class facilities, more broadcasting of the games and last but not the least, more support from the fans. The Asian Cup has shown that we are capable of it when the time does come - we can step up, with no second thoughts about it.

And hopefully, next time when India hosts a tournament (soon), there will be fans at the stadium with a few wearing the Indian jersey, some holding posters and all of us cheering for the Blue Tigresses on top of our voices.

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