Disparity in finances, planned move: A closer look at Kerala Blasters disbanding their women's team
Putting a magnifying glass on Kerala Blasters' recent act of disbanding their women's team raises more questions than answers.
In a surprising move that has drawn significant criticism, Kerala Blasters, one of India's most popular football clubs, has announced the temporary suspension of its Women's team due to financial constraints.
The decision comes in the wake of a hefty fine imposed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for the men's team's controversial walkout during the ISL 2022-23 playoff game against Bengaluru FC. However, many have raised eyebrows at the club's justification, citing contradictory evidence that suggests alternative motives.
Following a contentious refereeing decision allowing a quick freekick goal from captain Sunil Chhetri, the Kerala Blasters' men's team decided to abandon the game, triggering severe repercussions from the AIFF.
The governing body penalized the club with a staggering Rs. 4 crore fine, while also imposing an additional Rs. 5 lakh penalty to the head coach Ivan Vukomanovic. Despite the club's appeal to reduce the fine, their request was rejected on June second, leaving them with a two-week deadline to pay the substantial amount.
The club's official statement points to this financial crunch as the primary reason behind the temporary pause on the women's team's activities. They argue that the hefty fines have strained their financial resources, leaving them unable to sustain both the men's and women's teams simultaneously. However, closer scrutiny of the situation reveals a different perspective.
Move over Nostradamus, Kerala Blasters had their very own mystical sage who foresaw the walkout and subsequent fine two months in advance! Talk about having a future-telling ace up their sleeve!
Contrary to the club's narrative, The Bridge understands that discussions about discontinuing the women's team had already begun in February of this year, nearly a month before the walkout incident and two months before the AIFF sanctions.
This information challenges the club's official explanation, suggesting that the decision might not be solely driven by the financial constraints resulting from the fine.
According to insiders, the initial plan to establish a women's team was prompted by the AIFF's indication that having a women's team would be mandatory for club licensing, although it was specified that it would not fall under the A or B grades of the five licensing categories, namely Sporting criteria, Infrastructure criteria, Personnel and Administrative criteria, Legal criteria, and Financial criteria.
Kushal Das, the AIFF's representative, stated back in 2020, "In our licensing criteria, we have included a requirement for clubs to have a women's team. While it may not be categorized as A or B level, it marks a significant step forward."
However, there was no subsequent communication or follow-up from the AIFF regarding this matter, and there were changes within the board as well, leaving the club in a state of uncertainty regarding the implementation of the women's team requirement.
While discussions had been ongoing for some time, a final decision regarding the women's team was never reached. The club's ultimate choice was also influenced by the AIFF's decision to introduce a fixed minimum salary requirement in women's football.
However, this situation raises broader concerns about the survival of other local clubs that lack the fanbase and resources enjoyed by Kerala Blasters. Ultimately, the intent is what matters.
Disparity in finances between men's and women's teams
The club's claim of financial hardship appears dubious, especially considering the recent player signings. Kerala Blasters recently acquired the services of Jaushua Sotirio, a new striker whose transfer fee remains undisclosed.
This move has raised eyebrows, as it implies that the club has allocated substantial funds for player recruitment, casting doubt on the sincerity of their financial struggle.
Moreover, the club has also added veteran Prabir Das to their roster. While these reinforcements are a necessity for the men's team, one can only wonder how much it would have costed to run the entire women's team comparing to these signature signings.
As reported by The Bridge on Wednesday, the Kerala club is on the run to rope in veteran defender Pritam Kotal, which includes paying a transfer fee for the Mohun Bagan skipper. Apparent disparity between the club's actions and its official explanation has led many to question the validity of their claims and suspect ulterior motives behind the decision to pause the women's team.
It is essential to acknowledge that the cost of operating a women's football team in India is significantly lower compared to the men's counterparts. Estimates suggest that running a women's team, including salaries and operational expenses, can be comfortably managed within a budget of under Rs. 50 Lakhs. With this in mind, it becomes increasingly challenging to accept the club's plea of financial struggle as a legitimate reason to halt the women's team.
Kerala Blasters enjoys a passionate and dedicated fan base, who have shown unwavering support for both the men's and women's teams. Many supporters and women's football advocates have expressed their disappointment and frustration over the temporary suspension, questioning the club's commitment to promoting gender equality and inclusivity.
It is crucial for Kerala Blasters to prioritize transparency and communicate their decisions effectively to maintain trust and credibility.
Moving forward, it is essential for clubs, governing bodies, and the football community as a whole to prioritize the development and promotion of women's football. Intentions and actions must align to ensure equal opportunities for women in the sport.
The controversy surrounding Kerala Blasters serves as a reminder that progress in women's football should not be undermined or neglected due to financial struggles caused by the men's team or other factors.
Ultimately, the true measure of a club's commitment to gender equality lies in its actions, investments, and support for women's football and grassroots. Kerala Blasters now faces the challenge of rebuilding trust and reaffirming their dedication to inclusivity, transparency, and fairness, both within their own organization, fanbase, and the larger football community.