There should be a national league for women'

S. R. SURYANARAYAN

Surinder Bhambri, the convenor of the women's football committee, is of the view that women footballers should get the benefit of more tournaments and international exposure.-Pic. K. GAJENDRAN

WHEN Punjab hosted the senior national women's football in the millenium year there was at least one keen follower of eve's football who dreamt of a new dawn for this sport in the country. This was the first time that the competition had come out of the East Zone and in his own estimation, "it was a well received national."

Surinder Bhambri, as such, is no stranger to women's football. A businessman from Jalandhar, Bhambri was the founder of the Punjab Association and a key man in the national affairs. Not surprisingly, the AIFF, when it brought women's football under its wing, thought it fit to make him the Convenor of the women's football committee.

A keen observer and one serious of bringing women's football on sound footing, Bhambri was in Chennai as an official `Observer'. In a chat with The Sportstar, Bhambri, who had been with the Indian women's team to Europe in the mid 90s, believes that India has the capacity to make a mark in Asia. What was needed was proper and systematic training of the right talent, he said as he unfolded a list of players he had taken note of during the national. What impressed him was that of the around 250 players comprising the 18 teams that took part, a little under 50 per cent were in the under-19 age category. Even in this under-19 segment, around 30 per cent were in the under-16 age group. "This augurs well for the future," he said pointing out that there would be a good reserve even as new players emerge.

It is his view and he plans to discuss it with the AIFF officials that women footballers should get the benefit of more tournaments and international exposure. "We should also think of a national league for them on the lines of the men," he said. But for this, he agrees, a start has to be made to strengthen local leagues and club culture. At the moment this exists to some extent in Kolkata and beyond. Changing the national format to a zonal level competition and thereafter an inter-zonal final round were some other ideas that, he felt, needed a detailed discussion with a view to making women's football both attractive and a keen competition.

Bhambri, during his stay, also had an interaction with the medical team to assess the kind of injuries that came across among women footballers during the national. "This would be a good input when a fitness regimen is planned for the women," he said. As with some other sports disciplines, employment opportunities form one area of concern for women. "In Punjab I have been trying my best to have the women absorbed in the police. Some success has been reported," he said and wished the same would be experienced in other centres.

For women's football then, Bhambri is the modern day messiah. Can he bring the change and give women footballers the recognition they richly deserve?