In Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar, not far from the rows of shops selling export surplus clothes, a group of women across ages and skill levels convene at a field every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to play football. However, a year and a half ago, even the state women’s team was struggling to find a public ground to train at. In the hope of improving their performance at the nationals. Jyoti Burrett, member of the state team, recalls that they had been everywhere - from venues like Thyagraj Sports Complex to football fields in government schools - but to no avail. Government-owned grounds that should be available to the state and its players were booked up months in advance by private academies and, unfortunately, time-sharing just didn’t seem to be an option.
Shunted from one official to another, Jyoti says that the team first got lucky when Meenakshi Lekhi, national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party, gave them permission to use the Navyug School ground in Sarojini Nagar thrice a week for two hours each. Ready for a long overdue ninety-minute game, the girls reached the ground not realising that kick-off was still a few fights away. The ground was already occupied by players of a boys’ academy who, surprised at the ‘invasion’, asserted that they would not be sharing the field with the women. It was only when the senior politician sent personnel with Jyoti and the team, so that the only hurdles in their way would be the bright orange cones for drill practice, were they able to negotiate a compromise. By standing their ground and showing up every day without fail, the women won access to the field on days that the boys’ team was not at practice.
The Delhi Women Football Players’ Welfare Association (DWFPWA) was, thus, born in 2017 and its biggest mission is inclusivity. Whether you’re a teenager with a passion for football but you’re studying at a school that doesn’t include the sport in its list of extracurricular activities or you’d like to blow off some steam and play for an hour every week, the field is open to everyone. Jyoti hopes that, by ensuring that the public ground in Sarojini Nagar remains easily accessible, no football dreams will be benched.
While Bend It Like Beckham’s Jess (Jesminder Bhamra off the field) struggled to win the approval of her conservative Sikh parents and still chase her football dream, the biggest roadblock for the girls at the DWFPWA was a more mundane problem - a lack of training facilities and public grounds in Delhi. The big picture, Jyoti affirms, is to help Delhi’s state team leave a mark on national football by providing access to training infrastructure and coaching. On their way to do just that, the team has already played an outstation friendly in Dehradun, in addition to the Discover Football Tournament in Goa, claiming victory and a cash prize that went towards buying bibs, cones, markers and balls for the field. The next step for the association is to install proper bathrooms and locker rooms.
Till then, the football ground in South West Delhi’s Sarojini Nagar serves as the city’s first public field available to women exclusively and making this possible, Jyoti signs off, was no mean feat.
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