Kristine Lilly: Respect for women’s game should be as much as for men

The retired U.S. soccer star hopes the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup helps women’s football in India grow by leaps and bounds.

Kristine Lilly... “Dollars need to be invested in, coaching needs to be invested in, opportunities need to happen for girls to play.”   -  Vivek Bendre

In her long and illustrious career, Kristine Lilly appeared for a record 354 times for the United States. Having scored 130 goals for the U.S. between 1987 and 2010, Lilly has been part of two Women’s World Cup-winning side, and also two Olympic gold-winning sides — in 1996 and 2004.

She is in India for the first time, to attend the Emblem launch of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Lilly made it clear that such mega tournaments will help Indian football grow by leaps and bounds. “Dollars need to be invested in, coaching needs to be invested in, opportunities need to happen for girls to play,” she said.

In a conversation with Sportstar on Saturday, Lilly spoke on next year’s U-17 Women’s World Cup, pay parity and more.

Q. India hosted the men’s U-17 World Cup a couple of years ago and now that it gets ready for the women’s U-17 World Cup, what are your thoughts?

A. I think the boys event was the dry run and now the real thing is coming (laughs). It’s great, you had that great World Cup two years ago, so now that you bring a women’s games here, the support that boys got so obviously we hope that it’s the same for the women’s side, with the locals, the nation supporting these teams. For these young girls, it’s their dream to be in the World Cup, so this is something special for them.

Many feel that this event will redefine India’s women’s football. After the World Cup is over, what should be the way forward for Indian football?

I think the focus should just be to create opportunities for girls to play. I’m not sure of the infrastructure for women’s football here. The full team needs to be supportive and competing at levels. So, I think dollars need to be invested in, coaching needs to be invested in, opportunities need to happen for girls to play, because you don’t want to host a big event and then get real excited and then girls will be like, ‘Oh, what happened to football?’ So you just want to continue then, give them a place to play.

You have witnessed football in various parts of the world. What is the difference between European and Asian footballers?

The Asian culture is more technical and little quicker here and then you go to Europe and U.S., and it’s little taller and more stronger. Longer ball sometimes, but obviously everyone’s starting to play the game, but whenever you play the Asian teams, the technical side and the quickness were very incredible.

Read | FIFA chief women football officer: Want to see both men, women involved in U-17 World Cup

Let’s talk about this year’s Women’s World Cup in France. It was one of the most watched tournaments, and many feel it’s been a game changing moment for women’s football. What are your thoughts?

The viewership is the biggest ever so far and that’s because more coverage is coming. So, as long as we keep growing from the media side to the player side, the sport is going to grow. And I think in France, the games were great and obviously I am biased because the U.S. won, but anytime you can get women’s football visible its going to help it grow. So now we are here in India, next year for the U-17, its going to help it grow here. It’s going to help young girls see these women play and feel like ‘I can do it too.’

The world is talking about parity of pay between the men and women footballers. What are your thoughts on that?

I think there definitely should be more parity, there is no doubt about it. I know that FIFA’s investing the dollars in the women’s side and US Soccer has been a big support of the U.S. team, and obviously the U.S. women are fighting for equal pay and all that it’s important because to me it shows respect. You have to show respect to the women’s game as much as you show respect to the men’s game.