Aditi Chauhan: Hero ISL has changed the perception of football in India
Women's football in India has been growing at a rapid pace over the last few years and Indian women's national team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan has been an integral figure in the narrative. Despite being just 27, Aditi is a role model for aspiring footballers and young women all over the country and for good reason. One of the most recognisable faces in the women's game in the country, Aditi isn't only an integral member of the national team setup but also holds the distinction of being the first woman from India to ply her trade in England, having played for West Ham United's ladies team from 2015 to 2018. Besides winning several accolades with the national team, she is also the first Indian to win the Women in Football Award at the prestigious Asian Football Awards.
The Delhi-born player’s list of accomplishments, however, doesn't stop there. An M Sc in Sports Management from UK's Loughborough University, Aditi's dedication towards developing women's football in the country extends well beyond the conventional trope of being an inspiring symbol. She is also the founder of She Kicks Football Academy, a Delhi-headquartered women-centric football academy dedicated towards nurturing stars for the future, with a broad vision of empowering young girls by giving them a platform to chase their dreams.
Recently, Aditi was present at Kochi for Kerala Blasters FC's Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 match against Hyderabad FC to receive an award for her contributions towards women's football in India and in an exclusive interview, spoke about a wide variety of topics, ranging the Hero ISL to the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup which will be held in India. Here are the excerpts:
Your take on the Hero ISL’s growth over the years?
It’s been amazing to see the growth of the Hero ISL. I am from Delhi, so I have seen some of the matches when Delhi Dynamos FC were there. I wanted to come here and see that atmosphere and meet the fan base of Kerala Blasters FC. That’s how you build a culture. That’s how you build the interest of the youngsters. I have seen a lot in the change in the spectators, the crowd, the opinion of people towards professional football. The Hero ISL has done a tremendous job in changing and transforming that perspective of football among the fans.
On the growth of Indian Women’s League (IWL).
There has been a lot of change with the IWL. It is a very major step towards professionalizing the game in women’s football. I have also seen the IWL grow from the first year till now. They are trying to get 25 teams, which is a very big step. I think in the initial stages there were six teams who played in the final round of IWL. It is really important to have a professional set up for the sport to consistently grow. We are doing well with the senior national team. With IWL, it is going to be a major boost with more youngsters building interest towards the game. Hopefully, it will have a ripple effect and we will have more and more girls playing football.
On the rising popularity of football among young girls in India.
There is a lot of change. When I started playing, I didn’t even know there is a Women’s National Team. The media has played a very important role. Getting results with the National Team is very important for the media to cover and popularize the sport. The overall contribution of AIFF (All India Football Federation), the government, the players as well. to consistently do well and keep getting good results is very important. Since I started playing football in Delhi, I have seen a lot of change. Most of the schools now have a girls football team. There are more tournaments coming up with the IWL. Local leagues and tournaments are also being organized in individual states. There is a revolution starting. With the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup starting in India this year, it will give a major push towards the right direction. I can only hope and pray that is only what happens.
How do you plan on motivating the Indian U-17 Women’s Team?
I really want to speak to them. It is a major occasion. It will be a big platform to play in front of the home crowd. The tournament India (Hero U-17 Women’s Championship) hosted recently was a good preparation for them to actually absorb the amount of pressure they will be dealing with during the U-17 World Cup. There will be a lot of expectation, lot of pressure. For these young girls, who have got this experience for the first time, it is going to be really important. I think, they did really well in managing that pressure and responsibility in that tournament. I can only hope that they develop more and put in more effort into the World Cup and leave it all on the pitch and let the crowd do the rest.
A message for the players in the Indian U-17 Women’s Football Team?
Enjoy this platform, this occasion. Give your all on the pitch and everything will go well. The most important thing is to enjoy and have fun on this platform. Give your best. That’s the only suggestion and advice I can give because ultimately the crowd also knows. They are watching football for so many years. They are watching the Hero ISL. They know what kind of level they are at. There are certain kinds of expectations from the crowd as well. It is really important to meet this kind of expectations and do well. That’s how you build from that exposure.