The Rangers attacker also spoke at length about the importance of clubs investing in women’s football in the country.
Indian women’s football stalwart Bala Devi has urged for a female version of the Indian Super League to enhance the growth of the sport in the country. Actually, the nation is slated to host the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2021 and then the Asian Cup in 2022. Accordingly, these tournaments could possibly stimulate and popularize women’s football in India in the coming years.
The 30-year-old reflected on that by stating, “I think if a few youngsters do well in the U-17 World Cup, they might be called-up for the senior team camps as well, so this would be a good transition. These two years will be very exciting for Indian football, but I think the follow-up is even more important.”
She stressed on the necessity of having a good league and legacy post the major championship. It is also important to build from the junior levels. Hence, the Rangers WFC forward mentioned that girls need to play full-time in schools, academies and from thereon continue the journey to represent semi-professional and professional clubs.
“I am hoping for an ISL-type scenario for women’s football in the future,” she remarked. Bala Devi is one of the pioneers of the sport in India. She has represented the likes of Manipur Police, Eastern Sporting Union and the Imphal-based Kangchup Road Young Physical and Sports Association in the past.
Her efforts bore fruit when she became the first Indian female footballer to professionally sign for a prominent European league. Devi was roped in by Rangers 18-month contract. However, the season was disrupted due to the COVID-19 crisis and hence Bala Devi has been stuck in Scotland since then.
She has been turning out for the national team since 2005 and the Asian Cup in 2022 could arguably be one of the most remarkable moments of her career. Speaking on that, Devi mentioned, “We do not get much exposure, but with this tournament (Asian Cup), hopefully, we can get a lot of interest in women’s football in India. I think for the country, it’s a huge step, but we can follow it up with even more regular tournaments in the future.”
The former AIFF Women’s Player of the Year hopes that the two upcoming major tournaments encourage the clubs to invest in women’s football. She believes that such a move could potentially assist the country in harnessing and producing more professional female players. “We never know, but hopefully, we will host the FIFA Women’s World Cup someday,” Devi quipped.
The Rangers player also elaborated on the competition that the Indian team faced at the continental level. She observed that due to lack of access to women’s football on television, they weren’t really aware of the manner in which India’s prospective opponents are shaping up. However, she understands that the likes of Japan, Australia and South Korea are strong competitors at both the Asian and world level.
She further commented, “Personally, I am very excited about this opportunity to play at home in the biggest tournament at Asian level. But, it’s difficult to say how we will perform in this tournament. Let’s hope we put in a lot of good practice and play a lot of matches ahead of the tournament. Then, you never know, with home support we could get a few favorable results.”
Bala Devi admitted that competing against Japan, who had won the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011, would be significant exposure for the Indian team.