Mumbai: “I want to represent India at the national level and I want to wear that jersey soon,” said 16-year-old Shianzi Tamang, a class X student of Shri Mammabai High School in Byculla East.
Shainzi is among the many promising girl football players in the city. “As a kid I watched boys in my neighbourhood play football, but I did not know what the sport was,” she said. “Once, while watching a boys’ game the ball came near me. That was for the first time I ever kicked a real football and I liked that feeling. It made me happy,” she recollects.
For Shainzi it was just an instant liking for the sport, for Sania Santhosh, a class VII student in Bombay Cambridge School, (Andheri) television matches got her hooked to her favourite sport. “I started playing football with boys in my neighbourhood as there were no girls interested in playing,” said Sania.
When girls’ football was first introduced in 2009 in the Bombay Cambridge School, the football coach Riteish Sathe, had a tough time finding girls to participate. However since number of girls interested in this sport has been increasing. “The next year they came to me and asked me to form a team urging me to allow them to participate in the interschool football matches. I sure am happy with this positive change,” Sathe said.
Girls’ football is slowly but steadily catching up in the schools across various boards. Till now girls from international schools have excelled compared to those from state boards. “They have better facilities and also more supportive environments in their school and families,” explained Ramesh Kshatriya, Football incharge at Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA).
Preeti Ansari and Deepak Narawade, physical education teachers at Cathedral and John Cannon School, is one of the city schools that excelled in this sport. However, despite introducing girls’ football 14 years ago, it has caught up only since the last five years. The lack of appreciation and publicity initially forced girls to stay away. “Earlier, girls’ football got little or no media coverage and that definitely kept away girls from participating. But we persisted and have promoted inter-house girls’ football competitions which motivated them to come out and play,” they said.
At present the MSSA has around 50 girls’ football teams from 50 schools. On the other hand, the boys’ football has more than 230 teams. A dismal picture of girls’ participating in this sport. “Most girls pursue football as a hobby. We cannot blame them, as the football tournaments for girls are far too few. The girls are smart and realise there is little scope for them in future,” he added.