Aditi Chauhan: Corporate sponsorship needed in Indian women’s football

Indian women’s national team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan stressed on the need for corporate sponsorship in Indian women’s football to ‘professionalise the game further’.

Indian women's team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan (in picture) says corporate sponsorship will professionalise the sport further in India.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Indian national team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan believes that investment and sponsorships from corporates are crucial for the development and progress of women’s football in the country.

Ahead of the preparatory training camp for the 2022 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, she spoke to Sportstar about India's performance so far, its continental targets, the gap between women’s football in Spain and India, and more.

Here are the excerpts:

How was your experience at the recently commenced COTIF Cup?

The COTIF Cup this year was a good experience - both for me and the team. Last year, it was the first time that the Indian women's national team played in Europe, which was a new challenge for all of us and thus we didn't have a great result last year.

This year, it was a better performance from us. We were also a better-prepared side — the exposure trips in the last four months really helped the team to be at a different level, as compared to last year. Overall, we did well and also the quote from the COTIF president about our performance only goes to show how much we have improved as a team.

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We finished third but if we had a better first game against Villarreal CF, we could have been in the final. Nonetheless, we improved a lot from the first game until our last game in the COTIF this year. We put a strong performance against Spain (under-19) in the last match; we were solid as a team and that's why we got a decent result. In terms of quality, they were naturally the better side but we did give them a good fight. 

This shows that we are only progressing, and there are positive signs with youngsters in the team getting exposure. The other (senior) players are also helping them; Bala Di [Ngangom Bala Devi] has also joined the team and she is also [along with Aditi herself] putting in her experience to use in helping the players, in whatever capacity she can. 

Indian team played against Villarreal CF in the COTIF Cup. How do you compare the Spanish women’s football league structure to Indian women’s league?

There is a gap between the two leagues but it isn't a huge one. We can certainly work towards that because while I was speaking to some journalists there (in Spain), they told us that Spain also had a very unconstructed (women's) football system but in the last two to three years, a lot of corporates have come in and provided financial support to the Spanish league, which has helped in the growth of (women's) professional football in Spain.

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Aditi Chauhan (1) says India performed well at this year's COTIF Cup, in which it finished third.

Corporate sponsorship is needed in India too. Investments from corporates are needed to professionalise the game further and take it up (the ranks). This will help in the progress of the game.

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With the introduction of Indian's Women's League (IWL), some of the corporates are trying to help in the development of the game. We are headed in the right direction but more investment and more structure needs to be given from all stakeholders in India to help grow the game further.

Last month, the Indian women’s team jumped six spots in the FIFA World Rankings to achieve the 57 spot. What do you make of the feat?

The world ranking of 57 is great in terms of us getting some improvement, but we have seen how ranking does not define everything. The ranking is not a true reflection of the standard or the way which we or the other countries play, however, ultimately it is the FIFA world ranking, and we have to keep doing it as that is what the people see. But for us, the results are what is important —  to be facing bigger challenges to test ourselves and to keep growing from those exposures. 

Our target is to get in the top 10 of Asia, which is a very doable and realistic target. With that aim, we are trying to improve. The future exposures towards our plan for this target would be really important for our steady growth, which we have shown since December last year. 

What are your expectations going into the AFC Asian Cup 2022 qualifiers?

The preparation we have been doing and the exposure trips we have been on are all aimed at preparing to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2022. That is a target that we want to achieve but for now, we want to take one game at a time.

We want to keep progressing like we are right now, and the next challenge is Uzbekistan, which is closely-ranked [44 rank] to us [57 rank]. They are higher ranked than us and are a team we should be looking to beat. With that in mind, the team will be grouping in the camp ahead of the friendlies.

The FIFA under-17 Women’s World Cup is set to be held in India next year. Do you think it will help increase the awareness of women’s football in the country? Have you had the chance to attend the team’s training sessions or meet the girls?

This could be a game-changer for women's football and about how people look at women's football in India. We really have a big chance of putting Indian women's football on the map. 

The senior team has been doing really well and if the under-17 team does well, it will show the grassroots structure that we have and what kind of players we are producing at the grassroots level. 

I have not had the chance to see the team play in India but I hope I can see them soon and hopefully speak to the players too. I hope to share my experience and knowledge with them. From the results from their recent exposure trips, they seem good. They are off to a good start and I hope they play against more challenging sides to test themselves in their preparation for next year. I wish them luck and hope to see them play soon.