On a cloudy morning at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong, donning the number 17 jersey, Dalima Chhibber kick-started her Indian Women’s League (IWL) campaign in style. The Delhi-born girl bagged the equalising goal for India Rush Soccer Club in the 28th minute as she released a piledriver from 40 yards out which sailed into the net.
The belter of a strike was, however, missed by a majority of the fans, thanks to IWL’s limited coverage.‘’The lack of broadcast hurts women’s football in several ways. The efforts go unrecognised as a lot of people aren’t watching it online,’’ Dalima tells Goal. The matches of India’s premier football league for women are only streamed live on Facebook.
Plying her trade with Mumbai-based India Rush this season, Dalima is a bold youngster who is not afraid to speak up for the welfare of women’s football. Born in a family of sportspersons, the 20-year-old took to football in the fourth grade. Having represented India at the U-14, U-16, U-19 levels and now the senior side, Dalima credits her father for the success so far. ‘’My father is my coach and that’s how I began playing. I used to tag along with him on the football fields. I actually started off with athletics. My father had a boys team so after seeing them play often, I joined them which kick-started my interest in the game,’’ she recalls.
Dalima, who can play as a centre-back, right-back or a central midfielder, is in her second chapter of IWL, having played for Indian Super League outfit FC Pune City last season. Talking about the standard of performance, she believes the level of competition has elevated this year. "In the first season, we witnessed fewer players coming up. Now, I think the quality of footballers has improved as more girls are stepping up having seen the inaugural edition. We witness tougher matches and more players.’’
Despite the opportunities offered to female footballers in the country, Dalima claims that footballers, not unlike her, still can’t see a future in India like their male counterparts. This because of the lack of financial security catered to them. ‘’Football is still coming up in our country as cricket has always dominated. Now, the men’s football is being recognised and they’re being paid well in a way that they can sustain through their earnings from football. But for women’s football, the game is still coming up and will take time to grow. The earnings in women’s football isn't enough to sustain on it. We can’t see a future based on our football earnings.’’
‘’I wouldn’t say the payment is much. All the active women footballers we see today, are doing a job simultaneously with the football duties. Whatever payment they receive from football, it isn’t enough to sustain ourselves,’’ adds Dalima.
As compared to when she began playing, the facilities at grassroot-level football have improved, claims the 2016 SAFF Women’s Championship winner. Having spent most of her time in the capital city, Dalima reveals that young girls, aged 6 to 10, are now showing up on the football fields, which makes her confident of a brighter future.
However, Chhibber has concerns over the current string of players in the senior women’s national side. The defender is content with the international friendlies set up for the side but believes they need to have more exposure trips.
‘’We need more competitive matches because here we keep playing against each other in the tournament, it doesn’t promote growth. When we go to other countries and face them, we are subjected to more competition which enhances the confidence and prepares us mentally and physically for the upcoming challenges,’’ she explains.
While Dalima has joined the senior girls only a couple of years back, the 20-year-old has shown intent by speaking up about the need for better pay structure, the much-needed recognition for their efforts and the desire to challenge in order to prosper. Ranked 59th in the world, the Indian women’s team has the potential to excel but needs its demands to be voiced. A young Dalima Chhibber, who is one for the future, has done exactly that.