"Playing along with the girls at ASA and knowing about their commitment to sports was really an amazing experience for me" says Real Betis Feminas captain Irene Guerrero
Grassroots football is all about providing the youth with a platform or an opportunity to learn and develop their game. Regardless of age, football is a sport that has welcomed each enthusiast with open arms, much like the Anantapur Sports Academy. Gender, religion, race, where you come from being damned – all an aspirant of the beautiful game really needs is a passion and love for the sport, teamed with a dash of skill.
The Academy focuses on the inclusion of one and all, alongside prioritising on increasing participation of young kids.
With more than a hundred grassroots program centers operational across the Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh, the sports academy is providing to more than seven thousand youngsters who are gaining exposure by partaking in regular and weekly sporting activities and events.
The grassroots development programs at the Anantapur Sports Academy primarily focus on four sporting disciplines – cricket, football, hockey and judo. These programs are run through mandal (village) clubs, sub-centers as well as government schools. They serve to provide young athletes with a platform wherein these children get regular and viable access to involvement in sports.
Having collaborated with La Liga side RCD Espanyol earlier this year, it is Real Betis who have now flown down to the subcontinent in order to contribute towards the progression of football in India.
It was Betis’ ladies’ skipper, Irene Guerrero who visited the academy in the Andhra district to conduct a three-day football workshop with the budding women footballers at the academy, in association with the affiliation with the academy, La Liga and Real Betis.
In an exclusive conversation with Sportskeeda, here is what Guerrero had to say on the set up in Anantapur, and her experience after playing with the children there…
“My real experience in India has been wonderful even though I have been in India for just three days and it is not enough to know well about the country. I have been able to know more about Foundation La Liga’s work and FVF which is commendable and I would like to thank both the organizations,” said Irene.
“Hopefully in few years, women become more prominent in sports. However, I was surprised because the girls at ASA [Anantapura Sports Academy] play very well and have a high participation of girls. Playing along with the girls and knowing about their commitment to sports was really an amazing experience for me,” the Real Betis captain added.
Growing up, Irene played all kinds of sports apart from football, such as volleyball, tennis, rugby and even swimming.
She has been a part of many tournaments such as the COTIF Women’s Football Tournament. The COTIF Tournament is an annual event that is held in Valencia, Spain and is played by national teams, U-20 clubs and senior teams as well. Started in 2012, the tournament has become a global success over the years.
Real Betis founded their women’s team (Real Betis Féminas) back in 2011 after the integration of Azahar CF – a local club, into the structure of the organization. It took them a mere four years to bump the club up to the Premiera Division – the top division of Spain, after persistently performing well in the lower leagues. Before joining the Seville-based side, Guerrero played for clubs such as Híspalis, Azahar and Sevilla.
It was after the incorporation of Azahar CF that Irene started playing in the Green and White Striped shirt. The 21-year-old midfielder was later named as the captain of her side and continues to lead the Féminas even today. Having completed her graduation in Physical Activity and Sports Sciences recently, Guerrero continues to accomplish her goals and dream, much like the one she realised this year when she played on the Estadio Benito Villamarín alongside her Real Betis teammates.
Irene opened up about the initial stages of her career when she talked about the kinds of problems she faced as a female footballer back in the day. Sports for women was nothing short of a stigma even in Spain. “Yes, the truth is that at the beginning it was tough. It was not common to see a girl with a ball. In my particular case when I was little my parents did not want me to play football because, as it was seen as a men’s sports,” she said.
“Instead they enrolled me to Sevillanas class [typical Spanish dance] but I used to escape from those classes to go to the football field close by to play football with some children. When my parents realized what I was willing to do to play football they did not hesitate anymore and they enrolled me to a grassroots football club,” Guerrero continued.
“Nowadays, in Spain, the involvement and presence of women in football are very important as it is for men and I hope that with help of La Liga and La Liga Foundation in Spain and Rural Development Trust in India girls will have one day the same opportunities as boys,” said the midfielder.
Wrapping up, Irene gave a bit of a tip from her end to all those young and budding female football aspirants, who are looking to make a career in the sport. “I would like to tell them, to follow their dreams. And also, I will tell them to not lose their happiness because although it is a long way they will reach where they have proposed. And I would also say that they have to keep fighting for their dreams and beliefs. Rome was not built in one day. I am sure that they will succeed,” Guerrero said, signing off.
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