Women’s football in Nepal is in a sorry state as compared to men’s football. Yet they are the ones who have made us proud at the international level.
Despite claims of equality in today’s modern society, there is a lot of discrimination and very little interest in women’s football from different sectors of the society.
“The condition of women’s football in Nepal is the same as that of the world level. Everybody prefers men’s football instead of women’s. Everyone is eagerly waiting for men’s world cup but very few will pay heed to women’s world cup,” says Sanjib Mishra, head of the delegation of Nepali women’s football team that bagged the silver medal in the 11th South Asian Games (SAG) in Dhaka earlier this year.
Women’s football in Nepal is getting very little support. Unlike men’s football, they don’t have club-level tournaments. The All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) has been organizing school-level matches for girls, sponsored by Bottler’s Nepal, and the only other tournament that takes place is the national level, according to Mishra, which is not sufficient for the development of the sport.
Ironically, it was the women’s football team that held our heads high during the regional sports event in Dhaka with an exemplary performance. The flying colors with which the Nepali team claimed the second spot was the result of years of hard work, says Mishra, who is also the development director at ANFA.
Women’s football holds a quarter-century legacy in Nepal. However, regular tourneys were disrupted for eight years, weakening the spirit of the players, in the post-restoration of democracy in 1990. One has to put a lot of effort to create players, and when there are no tournaments, all the efforts go in vain.
Jamuna Gurung, the captain of the victorious Nepali team in SAG, has been playing football for the past 11 years.
“A lot of dedication is needed to endure in football,” says Mishra and adds, “It’s not easy for women, especially in a conservative society like ours.”
Interestingly, almost all the women players are from remote areas. They have challenged the narrow mindedness of the society and pursued their dreams. And their success has led to the change in attitude and the way they are looked at.
Ashmita Khawas, a member of the Nepali SAG team, says it was very difficult in the beginning when she joined football, as she had to tolerate callous remarks from fellow villagers.
“Is it right for a girl to play football?” was what she used to hear. But now, she has become a role model in her village. “Everyone now wishes their child to become a footballer,” says Khawas who is from Jhapa.
Women’s football tournaments organized by the Maoists, when others overlooked them, were also useful to some extent in the development of the sport.
In such a dismal scenario, Friends’ Club of Kupondole in Patan has given some hope by running after-school football program for about 20 teenage girls. But the club’s coach, Mrigendra Mishra, said they haven’t been able to give much facility to the players besides training.
“Women’s football is discriminated against even at the international level, and ours is not an exception. Initially, we had 30 footballers but some left as their families said football was hampering their studies,” he said.
Coach Mishra, however, is optimistic that women’s football is picking up the pace.
“The turning point in Nepali women’s football came when the Armed Police Force provided employment to women footballers some years ago. They got regular training so they could exceed others in the SAG,” says ANFA development director Mishra. That was one of the reasons for the Nepali team’s success in the said games.
Unfortunately, there is very little support for the team that has contributed so much to the nation’s prestige. Even corporate houses have shown little interest in women’s football.
“It’s the social responsibility of corporate houses to treat both men and women equally. But it’s not the case in Nepal,” said Mishra. “I hope the result of SAG will help bring some positive changes,” he added.
“If corporate houses can spend 5 million for men’s clubs, why can’t they spend a little for women’s teams, too?” he questions. Mishra opines that it would be of
great help if they spent just one tenth of the amount for women footballers.
If the SAG result in the face of adversary is anything to consider, Mishra believes that proper support, regular tournaments like knockouts, and invitational friendly matches, and an academy for women players would undoubtedly make a Nepali women’s squad a regional football powerhouse.