“Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less,” Susan B. Anthony’s quote for the suffragette movement echoed loud and clear when Valanka Alemao filed her nomination this week.
Valanka is one of the seven candidates contesting for the post of the president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
The remaining six – Bhaichung Bhutia, Kalyan Chowbey, Manvinder Singh, Shaji Prabhakaran, N.A. Harris, Eugeneson Lyngdoh — are all men.
In 85 years since its inception – from Brigadier VHB Mejendine to Praful Patel – the AIFF has not had a female president. Valanka is looking to change that.
“I think that the only constant in life is change. The sooner we accept it, the better it is,” she told Sportstar. “And I'm glad that my candidature is supported by the men. I think it is going to be more inclusive, and it is the key.”
Two months before the U17 Women’s World Cup 2022, FIFA – the global governing body of football – suspended AIFF for ‘third-party intervention’, stripping it of the hosting rights of the tournament.
“It's just not about a Women's World Cup. It is about pride and being at this particular juncture in 85 years; we can't afford to let it go just like that,” said Valanka.
“All like-minded people should come forward.”
Valanka comes from a family of football heritage. Her father, Churchill Alameo – a former Chief Minister of Goa – is the owner of one of India’s most successful football clubs, the Churchill Brothers.
The Red Machines have won the I-league – which used to be India’s first division – twice and the Durand Cup – Asia’s oldest football tournament – three times.
“Sports is close to my heart. I’ve been born and brought up in a football family and, as a baby, I grew up watching football, so all I can say is that sports is something which unifies you beyond all boundaries,” she said. “There is no gender or religion caste or creed. There's just pure love and passion for football."
The lack of women behind the scenes (in Indian domestic football) impacts the development of the game for girls. In the I-League, Valanka is the only female Chief Executive Officer of a club.
“I think a lot more women should come forward in administration to ensure a proper ecosystem in football. There’s youth development. There are too many things (in football) because you just can't come like that, it has to grow like a pyramid."
“I don't have a magic wand, but I will require a team of people to do that.”
The AIFF – under the Committee of Administrators – has two months to finish the elections. Otherwise, India will not only lose out on hosting a major FIFA tournament, but the women’s under-17 team will also not be part of the event.
“One step at a time. We need to get this ban lifted, whatever it takes. The ego should be set aside, and we should work towards it and see that our country doesn't lose this [U17 Women's World Cup],” she said.