Bhubaneswar: Indian Women’s League (IWL) has been a blessing in disguise for the women footballers of India since its inception in 2016. And gradually, the event not only gaining attention, but changing for the better constantly and can change the face of Indian women’s football in the years to come.
After missing out on the 2020-21 edition, due to Covid-19 following four successive seasons, IWL has returned for the 2021-22 season as an upgraded version. The event kicked off April 15 at the Kalinga Stadium here and will conclude May 26.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is planning to identify talents through the event and groom them. To do so, in the first step they have changed the format and increased the number of matches compared to previous editions.
“IWL is being conducted to find hidden talents in the country. This year, we have changed the format and have kept a longer season with more number of matches,” said AIFF spokesperson Sunando Dhar.
“The players can get the game time and also it’s a process of nurturing them for the selection for the national team. IWL is a platform where players from different states and regions participate that also helps in the overall growth, I believe. They get the experience of playing longer season which helps to groom them for their upcoming duties,” Dhar added.
Even though the situation has changed a lot compared to 2020 or 2021, the fear is still there regarding the virus. So to organise such an event in itself was a challenge.
“Initially, due to the adverse effects of Covid-19 on the sporting calendar, we had postponed the dates twice to host the league. Thereafter the state implemented strict guidelines to cope with the situation,” stated R Vineel Krishna, secretary of sports, Government of Odisha when asked about the challenges.
“Prior to the ongoing IWL, we had also successfully organised the Odisha Women’s League (OWL) and the FIH Pro League 2021-22 at the Kalinga Stadium and all our system and processes related to the virus were in place.
“IWL which involved around 500 people, safety of the players and all involved was our top priority. The event is being conducted in a bio bubble. All players, coaching staff and organisers have undergone mandatory testing prior to the start of the event. Additionally, periodic or scheduled testing is also done to ensure the safe and smooth conduct of the event,” added Krishna.
Women’s football is yet to attract a fan base in Odisha. Speaking on this issue, Krishna said that OWL was a splendid initiative to get going in this matter. “Football is amongst our priority sports. And in association with AIFF and Football Association of Odisha (FAO) we have been conducting many programs and events those are improving the football ecosystem in Odisha, particularly women’s football,” he explained.
“The recently concluded OWL was very well received by the players and supporters and now with the IWL, we have given an opportunity to our players to play with India’s best women footballers. These inspire and attract budding players,” an optimistic Krishna added.
In October, Bhubaneswar is co-hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022 for which ‘four new football training centres have been developed’ and these are in addition to those already inside the Kalinga Stadium. “Collectively, these will play a significant role in the development of football in the state and its popularity,” Krishna signed off.