Interview with Anjali Shah, co-founder, PIFA - "Empower each and every girl to change her life through sports"
Ahead of the International Womens Day, we spoke to Anjali Shah, co-founder of PIFA, who works to ensure girls get into sports, and specifically football, so that it helps them grow in their lives, and gives them options in the future.
Anjali Shah is the co-founder of PIFA and a well-known business woman in Mumbai, India. She is a recognized promoter of football in India, especially women’s football. She has served as an advisory on the Maharashtra women’s football committee.
She managed the Maharashtra State U-14 Girls team that were runners up at the AIFF National Football Festival in Chennai, 2008-2009. She was appointed manager of the various Maharashtra Women’s team since 2008. She represented Maharashtra at a coaching clinic held in Goa in 2009 with U.S. women’s soccer coach Mr. Mike Dickey.
In 2009, Anjali was the team manager of the PIFA Colaba FC U-17 team that represented India at the FIFA recognized club tournament – GAUTENG FUTURE CHAMPIONS 2009 held in South Africa. She has developed ties and collaborated with many European clubs / academies such as AC Milan, Liverpool FC, Everton FC, Real Madrid Fundacion, Leicester City FC.
She is currently the CEO of PIFA Sports Pvt Ltd that manages the Premier India Football Academy and PIFA Colaba FC teams, one of which plays the I-League 2nd division. She is also the President of the “PIFA Foundation for the Benefit of Sports”, an NGO for the development of football for underprivileged youth.
She obtained her BA degree from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. She is also an ACE-certified fitness instructor. She completed the Fundamentals of Movement course and Fundamentals of Coaching conducted by the English FA in UK.
She has been in the driving seat of the “Girls Get Going” project which is a project that encourages girls to participate in sports and mentors them to stick with the program whereby empowering them mentally, socially and physically.
Following are the excerpts of the interview with Ms. Anjali Shah.
How tough/easy was it to convince the people around you that you would be taking up a career in Indian football?
The biggest obstructions were the coaches and administrators who were not used to seeing an educated and independent woman enter a male dominated area.
What are the problems faced by women/girl athletes in India?
Cultural norms that state that sports are meant for boys are the biggest ones. Girls are usually clannish and join only if other girls are participating. Also, there are misconceptions that girls are not physically suitable to the demands of physical activity.
In the cities, there is also the ever growing academic pressure for all genders to excel in studies. Parents want to keep girls away from boys which is one more deterring factor.
What do you think is the biggest issue faced by women in Indian Football?
The biggest of them all is discrimination by the governing bodies – Government funds, facilities and tournaments are never a priority for women athletes. The focus is primarily on men. Thus, enthusiastic girls are disheartened due to a lack of participation after training for the entire season.
What structure do you propose for development of Indian football?
The structure for women’s football should start at the grassroots level. Young girls should be introduced and encouraged to play the game in a non-competitive but yet healthy environment, thereby developing their love and addiction for this beautiful game.
They should be exposed to licensed coaches who will teach them the basic skills and confidence to take their game to a higher level. Football in school should be made a compulsory sport. Regular tournaments should be conducted annually, be it school, club or national.
Regular clinics for elite players should be conducted by I-League coaches. Seminars for the football players, as well as seminars to discuss issues related to women should be organised. A counselling centre to redress women football issues.
Whom have you been inspired by?
Leonardo da Vinci – One of the greatest minds in human history. He was a multi-faceted human being with the hunger to always learn and better himself. I have been following his ideology in everything I do.
Do you think somebody has been inspired by you?
Many academies have been inspired by our professional approach to football
What would your advice be for young, budding talent?
Start young, work hard and keep focused and you will reach your goal.
How do you intend to celebrate this day if you were back in your hometown/state?
I would like to empower each and every girl to make a choice to change her life through sports and the endless options it endorses.
‘Make it happen’ is the slogan for the International women’s day; how do you connect with it? What message would you send out?
I totally connect with this slogan. The power to “Make it happen” for oneself lies within each one of us and we should do whatever it takes to unleash this power and accomplish our true potential.