Two days after International Women’s Day, Khel Now celebrates with Indian footballer Dalima Chhibber and her story. . . 

The right-back is a national team regular at just 19 and talks about Women’s football in detail…

When a 7-year old girl, a budding athlete, started to go out with her father to his football academy, she never knew that one day she would represent India. This is the story of Delhi lassie Dalima Chibber.

Chibber, at just 7, used to ferry along with her dad Om Chibber who is a coach and has his own football academy. Going daily with her father to the academy and watching kids play fascinated her a lot and created an interest for football within her. Soon, she started to rub shoulders with older boys on the football pitch.

Dalima with her father after practising.

During the time when the profile of women’s football in India was low with few girls opting for the sport, playing with boys gave her a huge morale boost and motivated her to take the game seriously.

Soon, the seeds of talent nurtured by the coaching experience of her father (who himself is an AFC-C licenced coach), resulted in 13-year old Dalima being called for the India U-14 women’s team for which she scored 9 goals. Then onwards, there was no looking back. Later, she represented India U-16 and her journey continued as she rose through the ranks.

Chibber is a Barcelona fan and she follows childhood idol Ronaldinho and his mesmerizing skills. She also loves his crazy samba celebrations which always fascinated her. He played a huge role in her choosing to play as a midfielder in the initial stages of her career. She now follows Ronaldinho’s successor to the throne at Barcelona, Lionel Messi and takes inspiration from the mesmerizing skills of the Argentine magician.

Chibber not only broke the then stereotype of football of being a male sport but also shattered the myth that sports and studies cannot go side by side.

Dalima Chhibber training in Delhi.

She was in class XII when she got a call up for the India U-19 camp and her board exams were approaching. She didn’t think twice before leaving for the camp or leaving to play in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers and missing her first pre-board exams in November. This proves her love for the game.

After missing her first pre-board exams, she gave her second pre-boards and ended up getting 92%. She later got admitted to Jesus and Mary College. According to her, it was all thanks to her parents and teachers. “It was my mother who used to look after my studies and my father used to make sure that I didn’t miss my practise sessions,” Chibber says.

When she turned 18, Dalima was called up for the Indian senior team and it was a dream come true for her and a feeling which she still cannot put into words. “I was thrilled to play at the highest level,” recalls Dalima.

After entering into the senior national team and playing alongside heavyweights, she established herself as an integral part of the team. In 2016, India won the SAFF Championship by defeating Nepal in the final by a score of 4-0. This achievement was Dalima’s first major trophy as part of the national team.

Dalima Chhibber after the felicitation ceremony at the SAFF Championship 2016 (© AIFF Media)

She believes the level of women’s football in Asia has grown immensely.  Countries like Maldives, Nepal and Bangladesh have all developed over the last couple of years and were more competitive in the recently concluded SAFF Championships.

When asked about the level of Indian women’s football as compared to other countries, she said, “We defended the SAFF crown. This shows that we were a better team than the others and will remain a powerhouse in the coming years.”

Chibber recently played in the inaugural Indian Women’s League. She thinks the league is a perfect platform for budding players from all over the nation to come and showcase their talent, a platform from where they can be selected for the national camps and the national team. She believes it will also help women footballers in India to be financially independent as they will be paid and will be recognised, a phenomena which has been missing in the past.

The midfielder feels that the league provided a perfect platform for youngsters to rub shoulders with experienced players and will encourage more girls to take up the sport as it grows and becomes more lucrative. However, she stressed that the league needs more publicity and greater media coverage so that the players’ talent gets noticed by a wider audience.

Dalima started at a very young age and has a lot of time to create records with the national team.

Reflecting on the steps needed to improve the women’s game in India, Chibber asserted that the game needs to be more professionalized and receive greater attention from the media and cooperates. She also stated that female players should receive recognition for their achievements at par with the men.

She thinks there is lot of potential in Indian players such as Jaba Mani from Orissa (16-years old) and was part of the Indian national team at the SAFF Championship. In the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers camp, a lot of young players have been called up and everyone has the potential to become India’s next star player.

College-going girl Chibber is just 19 and has a long promising career ahead. She is an integral part of the Indian women’s team and has already written her name into the history books by winning the SAFF Championship and now dreams of playing for a club overseas.

Under this strong right-back, there is still a daddy’s little girl who obeys his orders on the field as her coach and hopes to lead her country some day.