The Indian Women’s Team’s prolific striker Bala Devi feels that the forthcoming FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022 will bring in a fresh change in Indian parents’ mind-set about motivating their daughters to embrace the beautiful game.
“Earlier, we didn’t see many girls play football. Now, the numbers have gone up significantly. In the FIFA U-17 World Cup, more girls from various countries will come to India and our girls will get an opportunity to rub shoulders with the world’s best. That will help change the overall mind-set,” the Rangers Women FC forward explained during a freewheeling AIFF TV chat.
In another effort to take Indian Football forward together, the All India Football Federation is at the cusp of hosting the second FIFA World Cup in five years in India, and the 30-year-old striker feels that it will help the country “shine” on a global stage.
“It (FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup) will make India shine brighter. All the boys who played in FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017, are competing in the top tier league now. I believe it will be a great opportunity for our girls to get noticed internationally, let alone in India,” stated Bala.
She even recalled how she was criticised for playing football but her father, who himself was a state-level footballer, defied the flak to help her attain her dream of being a footballer.
“I used to play with the local boys initially. Many people started talking about my playing and started criticising me. My father was a footballer and he used to motivate me always. Even today, he is my go-to person for any kind of football query, however silly it may be,” said the 30-year-old.
“He taught me to think about football 24/7 and even sleep with a ball in the bed. Sometimes, I even kicked in the middle of sleep and that’s how the passion grew within me. I would request all the parents to encourage and back their children so they can attain their dream,” she maintained.
Shri Praful Patel, President, AIFF and Shri Kiren Rijiju, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports interacted with the current U-17 Women’s National team and laid down a detailed plan for the days to come. Bala lauded the efforts to strengthen the resolve of the young footballers.
“Patel-sir has always worked hard to elevate Indian Football in the continent. Earning the hosting rights of the U-17 World Cup for men and women has put India in an admirable position in the continent nevertheless,” she continued. “His plans for the current U-17 batch underlines the long-term planning of AIFF for women’s football and I want to sincerely thank Praful sir for his constant support to women’s football.”
As mentioned by the president, some of the girls may find a place in the next U-17 women’s team who would go on to represent the country in the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2022, should they fulfil the age criteria. Their performances against the likes of Sweden and Thailand were not overlooked by the Manipuri footballer at all.
“They played well against Thailand and Sweden in Mumbai. Some of the players have the potential to make it to the senior team in due course of time. It will be great to see a junior player pushing the seniors and the competition will make the team more competitive and strong,” she opined.”If a girl starts playing at a young age she’ll be able to perform much better. As AIFF is putting constant effort in grassroots, our girls will reach a level to play professionally when they’re 14-15 years old,” stated Bala. “In 2022, the combination of the junior and senior players will be amazing. I can say that within the next ten years, we can achieve a higher ranking internationally.”