Traditionally, football has largely remained a man’s game in India, more so in a state where the gender discrimination runs deep.
Excited by the Kerala Blasters reaching the Indian Super League final, Kerala has been riding the soccer high. But, women’s football is still very much in the background in the state. The female footballers have limited opportunities to showcase their skills, let alone to dream of televised fixtures, sponsorships or huge crowds.
On the other side of the limelight stands the Government Vocational Higher Secondary School for Girls at Nadakkavu. This school has been fighting gender discrimination by providing football training. So far they have trained over 50 girls. The school has invested heavily in the development of girls’ football. They installed an astroturf field worth Rs 1 crore imported from New Zealand, and they roped in a former state women’s player as the coach.
The investment has indeed paid off with the school producing maximum players for the Kerala teams at various levels. As many as two dozen players hailing from this school have been drafted into the state teams over the past four years. 10 of the 18 members of the Kerala U-14 team, which took part in the championships held at Odisha earlier in the year, are products of the school. Nikhila T and Ashli YM, two former students, have even gone on to play for the national team.
As reported in the Times of India (TOI), the coach M Fousiya said, “It is a fact that football is perceived to be a man’s game. We have not let that historical gender bias affect us. Now, Nadakkavu School has become the factory for girl’s football talent here.”
She also added that on numerous occasions the parents had to undergo counselling and awareness sessions to let their children pursue a career in the sport. “Some are wary of what society would think if girls played football, especially after children reach high school. But the success of the school has changed perceptions and now parents are letting their daughters embrace the game more freely,” Fousiya added.
MLA A Pradeep Kumar, vice-president of Kerala Football Association, said, “What we lack is grassroots-level initiatives to identify and nurture talents. Also, we should have more women soccer club teams and district-level league matches. One major concern is that playgrounds of schools and neighbourhoods are lost to encroachments and school building projects.”
Priya P V, who is a national-level coach, lamented the lack of proper scientific methods. She said, “While we have proper procedures at grassroots-level for identifying talent in boy’s football, it is not the same for girl’s football. Those who show interest are included in teams.”
The former coach of national-level U-14 and U-19 women’s teams also lauded the Kerala Football Associations contributions at all levels in women’s football.
Kudos to Nadakkavu School for creating an inclusive environment for girls in sports. We hope to see many more national level players from the school.