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‘AFC Asian Cup will define the future of women’s football in India’: Aditi Chauhan

Talking about the recent boost women's football has received in India, the former West Ham United Women goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan encouraged the idea of more players plying their trade abroad.

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee |
Updated: June 9, 2020 3:28:23 pm
Aditi Chauhan (L) with India women’s national football team head coach Maymol Rocky. (Source: AIFF)

Even though Aditi Chauhan has gone from being a junior basketball player to becoming the first Indian to represent a Premier League club to captaining India, her drive to achieve more knows no bounds. Keeping the next AFC Women’s Asian Cup in her eyesight, she indicated that a sizeable burden of responsibility now rests on her shoulders.

On Friday, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) granted the All India Football Federation (AIFF) the rights to host the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup. India, who last played in the competition in 2003, have previously hosted the quadrennial tournament in 1979 in which the team finished runners-up.

Although such a result isn’t in the expectations this time around, the 27-year-old goalkeeper believes that the AFC Women’s Asian Cup is a ‘great opportunity’.

“I think it’s a great opportunity… a great platform for us to showcase our potential. Hosting the competition is a step in the right direction and now, it’s up to us to make the best of the investment and the opportunity. As players of the national team, we now have a huge responsibility on our shoulders to define the future of women’s football in India,” Chauhan told indianexpress.com over phone.

“I think the competition will play an important role in terms of getting more attention towards women’s football… by getting more supporters, and by attracting more eyeballs from the various stakeholders within the industry.”

India, currently ranked 55 in the world, had a spring in their step before the world went into lockdown mode in mid-March, having won the gold medal at the South Asian Games in December last year. Before the commendable draws in away friendly games against Uzbekistan and Vietnam, the national side won the SAFF Championship in March last year for the fifth time too.

“It’s very important to maintain the momentum that we have built in the last couple of years under the helm of our head coach, Maymol Rocky. With the U17 Women’s World Cup and now this hosting right, I believe that AIFF has further plans for more international exposure. I hope we can continue competing against the best,” said the 2015 Asian Woman Footballer of the Year.

Chauhan, who is a self-driven ambassador of women’s football herself, having her own academy, is also keeping a keen eye on the U17 girls. “Although I don’t want to name the players right now because I don’t want to add to the existing pressure, I can say that our head coach has plans to incorporate the young players in the Asian Cup in 2022,” she added.

Although the lockdown has forced all sporting activities in the country to take a hiatus, it hasn’t been able to stop Chauhan in her mission. Through her ‘She Kicks Football Academy’, she is continuing to ensure the development of aspiring teenagers through a yet-to-be-launched online training course.

Aditi Chauhan made her debut for West Ham United Women in August 2015. (Source: Twitter/@westhamwomen)

With two major events lined up for the next two years, the former West Ham United Women goalkeeper believes that there’s a possibility of more women getting a crack at the sport abroad.

Chauhan, who paved the way for Rangers’ Bala Devi and Manitoba Bisons’ Dalima Chhibber, said, “The experience that international exposure provides is certainly unmatched. From my own experience, I can say it has helped me a lot in terms of improving in all aspects of the game.”

Earlier, AIFF president Praful Patel urged the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League clubs to put up a women’s team for the Indian Women’s League (IWL). Chauhan, who won the IWL last season with Gokulam Kerala, has her fingers crossed for such a development.

“The talk [about ISL clubs] has been going on for many years, and I believe it’s time to take action. If not now, then when? I hope our recent title win will encourage more ISL and I-League clubs to put up more teams next year. To make women’s football more and more professional, it is crucial for the big corporates to invest in the facilities and help in having a longer domestic season,” she said.

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