If you've followed Indian football for long enough, nothing should leave you flabbergasted at this point. Some things might make you chuckle, and some might even infuriate you. Hence, the recent 'astrologer' fiasco isn't one that totally shocks the bejesus out of the Indian football faithful.
So, what's the 'astrologer' fiasco?
Well, reportedly, the All India Football Federation didn't believe the players and their quality alone could secure the Blue Tigers a berth in the AFC Asian Cup 2023 main tournament.
So ahead of the final round of qualifiers, which recently concluded in Kolkata, the governing body splurged approximately Rs.16 lakh on an astrology agency to "motivate" the national team players, according to a PTI report.
Superstition or black magic isn't new to Indian football, or football in general. But having a legitimate contract, as suggested by a Times of India report, which runs close to 30 lakh, is a new low. The AIFF had appointed Nyassa Astrocorp, an Astrology service provider, for a fee of Rs 24 lakh + GST for a period of three months. As per the agreement, the company was to assist the national team head coach. Only two of the three instalments were paid (amounting to 16 lakh) before the brewing situation made the headlines.
Not only does this highlight the ingrained vices that plague Indian football, but also, if put into perspective correctly, speaks volumes about the treatment dished out to women's football in India.
That the federation is ready to throw away 16 lakh from the allocated footballing budget on an organisation that practices pseudoscience puts the step-motherly treatment it metes out to women's football in perspective. How? Let us delve deep.
Basic infrastructural amenities are still a far-fetched dream for women footballers in India
Meagre salaries, ridiculous prize money and lack of infrastructure are just the tips of the iceberg, but these problems can be steadily solved if the money is put in the right places.
The top-tier competition in India for women's football, the Indian Women's League, has a prize money of Rs 10 Lakh for the champion team. Hence, this year's winners, Gokulam Kerala, made less bucks than apparently the astrology agency that assisted the men's national side.
Furthermore, the prize money for the player of the match is merely Rs. 5,000 in a national level competition. To put it into perspective, there are 66 total matches in the IWL, and even if you combine the sum for the player of the match in all those games (Rs 3,30,000), it's still five times less than what the astrology agency has already taken home.
The numbers don't change much when we take into consideration how much the player of the tournament made. A paltry Rs. 1.25 lakh.
A year back, the Indian senior women's team skipper Ashalata Devi revealed that many of the girls don't even earn Rs. 1 lakh per season. Women's football legend Bembem Devi has also spoken about the stark disparity in salaries between male and female footballers.
While equal salaries are still a far-fetched dream in India, even basic infrastructural amenities aren't developing as steadily as they should.
Earlier in the month, Indian footballer Bala Devi, in an interview with Sportskeeda, had underlined:
"Earlier, there was no future in Indian women’s football. Now, girls can dream of having a future in Indian football. But it’s very important to make that future bright."
But with recent proceedings coming to light, the future for women's football seems to be flickering amid dark clouds and a ghastly storm. There's no scope to delay the conversation anymore. The future is now and it's high time the showrunners at the top are held accountable. Or watch the brewing talent pool seep through.