Dalima Chhibber credits AIFF for supporting women's football: 'U-17 World Cup a step in the right direction'

Dalima Chhibber

From tagging along with her father, who is also her football coach, to watch his team play to donning the Indian national team kit and becoming a SAFF Champion, Dalima Chhibber's career growth has been remarkable. 

At the age of 21, the Delhi-born girl is already a first-choice right-back for Maymol Rocky's senior national team. Chhibber impressed in the Indian Women's League (IWL) last season, playing for India Rush and earning a reputation for long-range strikes in the process. She recently scored a similar goal in the final of the 2019 SAFF Cup to help India beat Nepal and clinch the trophy. 

Recollecting the stunning strike, Dalima Chhibber told Goal, "A lot of practice has gone into (scoring long-range goals) and it has made me confident. I felt really good (after scoring vs Nepal), my phone wouldn't stop buzzing after the goal. It was a great feeling that people got to know the potential of women's football in India.

India SAFF Women's ChampionshipAIFF media

"If you see the attention my goal received last year and the attention my goal got this year, it was a lot more. It is improving, considering women's football does not have a long history in India, teams take time to grow and it is still growing. In the coming months, it is going to be better."

With the national team duty coming to a temporary halt after India's exit from the Olympic qualifiers, Dalima Chhibber put pen to paper to sign for Gokulam Kerala for this season's IWL. The women's football championship will have 14 teams competing for the title this year, compared to seven participants in the previous year. Just like last season, The Malabarians are the only I-League club to field a women's team and no ISL club has fielded a team in the competition since 2017.

In an exclusive chat, Chhibber told Goal , "I'm really looking forward to playing for Gokulam Kerala. I am really happy and excited to be a part of the team. This is one of the teams that has been consistent in terms of indulging in women's football.

"This is a second time in a row that they are participating in the IWL. I really appreciate that. They are also one of the best clubs in India, every budding footballer would look to play for a club like Gokulam."

Chhibber is pleased with the level of football in the league and feels that the structure of women's football in India has improved. 

"The IWL experience has been really good. I have seen the IWL grow over the years. With the number of the teams, this time we have 14 teams participating. The level has been growing every year. 

"I feel the structure has improved if you look at the last four months and the amount of exposure that was given to the Indian women's football team. There is more focus and even the higher authorities are focusing on women's football. With the coming years and the amount of success the national team has achieved in the four months, it will improve.

"In the IWL, if you look at 14 teams, around 20 players in each, you can imagine the number of women footballers who will be playing. It will keep growing."

Atletico Madrid women fans

A record crowd of 60,739 watched the women's football match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano in March 2019. Women's football has started attracting more supporters into the stadium in Europe, a trend that we are yet to see in India. However, 21-year-old believes it is only a matter of time. 

"We are not that far from that situation (games with high attendance). Only if people are made aware of the matches, where the matches are happening and at what time they are happening because if you look at the number of people who were interested in our Olympic qualifiers, there were a lot of queries about where the matches are taking place. People actually went on and searched the Facebook pages, got the links and shared it among themselves. People are not aware of the games being telecast and where the women's team is playing.

"The numbers have definitely increased. If the matches are organized at a place where there are the most number of fans, now consider organizing a league in Kerala, we would have a lot of people watching the match. The viewership has increased a lot."

She also credited the work put in by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to support women's football in India. "The AIFF has put in a lot of hard work, considering the exposure and opportunities they have given us. They are doing their part. The point here is the support that the federation gets in terms of promoting the sport.

Dalima Chhibber

"It would be better if more ISL and I-League teams start participating in IWL. Even this year, we have only Gokulam participating in the IWL. Now only if these clubs come in and develop a football team, imagine the fans that they have. If they make people aware of women's football, imagine the impact it is going to have on their fans and the people who follow those clubs. Even the All India Football Federation (AIFF) needs support, in terms of broadcast and other factors."

After the success of the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup hosted in India, the federation has won the rights to host the 2020 U-17 Women's World Cup. The Gokulam Kerala right-back is hopeful that such a showpiece event will encourage more young girls to take up football as a career. 

"It will be a step in the right direction, it is always the best to work with the junior age group. It will bring out a lot of young women footballers, it will be an encouragement for people to pick up football and know how you can make a career in it. It will help the senior team as well in the long run to get better players from a young age."