Women’s League: At Long Last

Goalkeeper of the national women’s football team, Asmita Khawas was injured recently. The reason? She met a wild elephant she should not have, probably. The beast, not knowing Asmita was a national player, knocked her and she ended up in hospital, injured in the face and right leg.

Despite pain of the injury, she would not be too unhappy a lady. At least partly, as she must have learnt the same day, through media, that the first ever Women’s Football League was being organized in Nepal by ANFA.

Now that’s happy news for all football lovers. And the happiness is natural. After a long wait, the women footballers don’t have to be in the stadium just cheering for men. They can now have a league which they can call their own. The league is bringing in 8 teams (3 from the government and 5 development region) in a fortnightly championship.

Women's Football: Nepal international Jamuna Gurung during practice. Photo: web
Women’s Football: Nepal international Jamuna Gurung during practice. Photo: web

As readers of this column would recall – few months ago – yours truly had made a call here for a league championship that would last around 2 to 3 months to keep the women footballers engaged, thereby keeping them match fit and improve on their skills. After all, in the last three football tournaments Nepali women have played in – SAG and SAFF Cup in 2010 and SAFF Cup 2012 – they had finished as runners up to India. By any stretch of imagination, these women deserved to have a championship of their own.

So, it is a time to celebrate. As it is time to celebrate, it is also a time for introspection. It should also be a time to see, what next could be done. In times ahead, the fortnightly championship has to be lengthened. This is eventually going to be a base on which players are selected for the national outfit. And hence, it has to be as extensive as possible. Otherwise, we run a risk of not selecting players with talent, if they do not perform over a fortnight. It is difficult to miss noticing a player with considerable talent, if they’re performing over a stretched period of time.

It is a pleasure to see that ANFA has been able to rope in a sponsor as well, for the championship. A sponsor that will pay out 600 thousand rupees. However, the total cost of the championship is 4.7 million. It is for sure that ANFA will bear the deficit amount. This is where the governing body of football needs to be careful. It is difficult to cut cost in future. Hence, it only seems smart to market it well. If it is well marketed, and if the championship is made to break even financially, it will help sustainability of the project. Famous finance adage ‘Anything that pays, stays’ holds true even for sports. It would be sad to see that women’s football start suffering again due to lack of funds, as it is impossible to see that ANFA can continue pouring money down the drain.

It is good to see that the football body is trying to diversify the game to places other than the capital, by organizing the championship in Kailali (Dhangadhi). Outbound areas have long proven to be the most fertile grounds breeding women footballers, as experience from Bara, Rautahat, Banke, Kailali, Jhapa and Morang have shown (providing the most number of players to the national team). It would be a challenge, yet this championship will go some way to groom further players from other districts too.

Another point: One can point fingers at ANFA, for calling this championship as the ‘First Women’s League Football’. People who’ve followed football for over a decade would remember the tournament ‘Mangladevi League’. Now, this was roughly a month-long women’s football tourney, played in early 2000, in a league-cum-knockout basis. It would’ve been nice to recognize past efforts to give recognition to women’s football.

And a word of caution: Hopefully, this women’s league does not become like last year’s National League (of men’s football), where two teams from mofussil played and this year they find no place in the championship. To help the game grow, sustainability has to be thought of.

PS: This write-up appeared on Yours Truly’s weekly column in The Kathmandu Post – OFFSIDE – on 15 December, 2012

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