Who said women make you choose between your favourite sport and them? Today, women choose a sport of their own choice and do it right. While cricket has traditionally been India’s favourite game, the interest in football is rising impressively. Several new-age Indian women are choosing football over other sports to not only show equal participation among genders, but also to gain the type of agility and team spirit that other sports don’t provide a platform for. But is there a real career for women in football?
In an exclusive interview with Chaitra Anand, Former Australian soccer player Alicia Ferguson, who has represented the Australia women's national soccer team at the 1999 and 2007 editions of the FIFA Women's World Cup, busts myths about women’s football and sheds light on why football is where the opportunity is for women!
What’s the real reason behind gender inequality in football? Will women’s football ever be treated with the same respect as that of their male counterparts’? Hear it from the expert!
1.What’s the real reason behind gender inequality in football? Why isn't there equal pay for women in football as in several other sports and other professions too, what needs to change for this gap to be bridged?
I believe there's many reasons for gender inequality in football. Historically, women and men have been assigned certain roles in society based on gender rather than skill, ability or willingness. We're definitely seeing a change in thinking and acceptance regarding this, but there's still a long way to go.
Quite simply, women's football doesn't have the history men's football has, so we're playing catch up in regards to depth of talent pool, quality of the product, investment and marketing potential.
I tend to work on 4 year World Cup cycles to determine how well women's football is traveling and after the success of the 2019 World Cup in France, I was excited to say the least. The depth of technical and tactical play, support of the fans and quality of the tournament was outstanding and showed me that we're on the right track.
2. How is women's football different from their male counterparts'? What needs to change for the two to be on par in terms of international appeal?
Attitudes needs to change for women's and men's football to be on par in terms of international appeal. The main problem is that people want to compare them because we're so saturated by men's football, that's their only point of reference.
Equality isn't about comparing apples to oranges, it's about treating them with the same respect and fairness.
3. Is women's football treated with as much seriousness as that of their male counterparts?
Not yet, but we're getting there.
4. What challenges did you face as a woman in the field? Have you faced any MeToo moments?
I started playing in a boys team when I was 6 and then played in a boys and a girls team from the age of 11-13, before getting a scholarship to the Queensland Academy of Sport Women's Football program.
But when we were in camp with the Australian team we'd always play against a boys or mens team. This was so we could replicate the intensity of international games.
Apart from a few parents from the opposing team wanting their son to kick lumps out of me because I was better than their kid, I was very lucky that Australia is a sports mad country and there's nothing unusual about girls playing sport with boys.
5. India has always been a cricket crazy country, but lately football seems to be catching up too. What would you say are the biggest advantages of learning football and what are the takeaways?
Football has taught me so many things and provided me with such amazing opportunities to travel the world and make life long friends.
Still to this day, the place where I am happiest, and where I can forget about all the stress and strain of life, is on a football pitch.
Football has taught me resilience, given me confidence and been my support network during the difficult times.
The great thing about football is that you don't need much equipment.
To get a football game going, all you need is a ball. I love the beautiful simplicity of football.
6. Where do you think the Indian women's football team stands and what could be done differently to encourage players to perform better?
In a country where Cricket, Hockey and Badminton are the most popular sports, the Indian Women's Football Team need to keep striving for recognition and acknowledgment. Which is never easy.
BUT, the main thing the Indian Women's Football Team should do is control the controllable's by maintaining their love, enthusiasm and enjoyment of the beautiful game, no matter what obstacles are put in front of them.
7. What's your advice to young women and kids who want to learn and play football?
Step out of your comfort zone and give it a go. The friendships I've made through football have been the building blocks of my life and I'm grateful every single day for that.
8. Is there a real future for women in football?
The future of women's football has endless potential and I wake up excited every day that I can be involved in its continued development.
9. Can you share your most memorable moment-- on the field and off the field how you were treated as a star footballer?
Walking out at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Opening Ceremony to 100,000 screaming fans was the most memorable moment of my sporting career. It still makes me tingle thinking about that moment.
However, every single time I played an international and wore the green and gold Australian kit and sang our National Anthem, I was bursting with pride.
Sport is a wonderful space where fair play and respect are crucial.
10. Since you are originally from Australia and cricket is huge there as well, care to share how much of a cricket frenzy nation Aus is as compared to India?
Australia is a cricket mad nation, but India takes it to the next level!!
I love watching cricket being played in India (IPL, Tests etc) because the crowds are epic.
There's the noise, the atmosphere, the enthusiasm, the passion and the pure love of the game. Amazing stuff.
The rivalry between our countries has been going strong for many years and us Aussies know how difficult it is to beat India on home soil. Which was proven once again in the recent ODI matches!
Watch Alicia’s exclusive message for Indian football fans and share your views on whether football can soon surpass the popularity of cricket in India. What needs to be done to give other sports more exposure?