After announcing new centre of excellence, Football Delhi aiming to use the beautiful game for women's empowerment
Delhi is not a city that is known for its love for the beautiful game. However, with the sport itself growing in stature across the country, the capital city also seems to be slowly embracing it.
As the apex football governing body in the city, Delhi Soccer Association (DSA), decided to give itself a new name, Football Delhi, the administrators of the sport also took some key steps to ensure that the beautiful game keeps growing in the capital.
One unique step that the state association has taken is to create a centre of excellence for young women footballers. It is not just the seniors who are set to benefit from this. Women football players at the junior levels will have special programmes to help them build a career in the sport as well.
"The centre of excellence is an initiative where the girls from the junior and the sub-junior categories will be trained on a weekly basis and provided basic facilities. We will have 30 days to shortlist 27 girls in both the categories," said Delhi Football president Shaji Prabhakaran on the sidelines of the association's launch of its new brand.
Empowering women through football
Women's football has taken an upward turn this season, with the Indian Women's League being hosted in Shillong, earlier this year. This, in turn, has helped the women footballers come into the limelight in recent times.
"I feel that there is a lot more interest in women's football these days. Before, there was not much recognition. Nobody knew me as a women's footballer," said Indian women's team vice-captain Dalima Chhibber, who also hails from Delhi. "But now things have changed a lot. They have started recognising women football players."
Football Delhi chief Shaji Prabhakaran, on the other hand, has set his sights on more social goals, as the association looks to concentrate on women's football. "Delhi is not exactly a city that is known to be safe for women. Now we want to change that image about this city. This is the capital of the country, and we need to make sure that it has a clean image," he said.
"We are creating the centre of excellence for women because we want to support women's football as much as we can. Through football, we want to create more respect for women and also empower them. Our focus will always be on the women," Prabhakaran carried on.
Along with the centre of excellence, the association has also planned tournaments at the grassroots level that will help get children involved with the sport, especially at the U-9 and the U-11 age categories.
In fact, Prabhakaran even went on to reveal that the association has already received entry requests from around a 100 teams, and expect the total number of participating sides across both the age categories to double soon.
"We want to create the opportunity for the young boys and girls to play at the junior level. Therefore, they will have the platform to go and play for the clubs and the country when they get older," he said.
A community-based approach
Cricket enjoys the bulk of popularity in India. However, football is a sport that enjoys attention only in certain parts of the country. West Bengal, Kerala, Goa, Mizoram, Manipur are among the few states where the beautiful game is closely followed.
While Delhi has a number of clubs at the top level, garnering interest from the fans is something that the city has mostly not been able to do. Apart from the FIFA U17 World Cup matches last year, football games hosted in the capital have barely registered satisfactory attendances.
In order to tackle this issue, Football Delhi has come up with a rather innovative way of getting more people involved in the sport as well. Firstly, the junior tournaments are aimed at getting both the kids and their parents interested in football.
"For popularising football in Delhi, we have taken both a top-down and a bottom-up approach. In the top-down approach, we will bring in teams to play exhibition matches, and encourage new teams to join the professional level so that they do things that encourage the community," said Prabhakaran.
"It's not just about the high-performance side of the game. We also want to build a community for football in Delhi. That is how the game of football can spread through to everyone. If it is a community thing, then everyone will come to know about it, and that can only help the sport grow," he said.
On the senior level, the association plans to host tournaments where teams representing different areas of the city play against each other. The Football Delhi president believes that this will help people identify themselves with the hyper-local clubs, and capture their initial interest.
"We are trying to build some sort of identity for the football fans in Delhi, in the professional league. Basically, the clubs will be based in different areas, and they will fight it out against each other," said Prabhakaran. "For example, there will be one club from CR Park, or Karol Bagh, or Connaught Place. Only then will the fans have a sense of community with regards to football."
Football is a sport that currently seems to be on the rise in India. With the ecosystem growing, many states like Jharkhand, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu are also benefitting from the improved infrastructure that has been made available to the athletes either by the governments, or the corporate sector, or an amalgamation of both.
While Delhi still seems to be miles behind these traditional football powerhouses, the capital seems to have finally taken the baby-steps towards spreading the gospel of football around the city.