Xenia Dikunja6 minutes of reading
That incident – one of the most remarkable Moments of the season – Blasters forfeit the match, fined Rs 4 crore and coach banned for 10 matches. And some resentment from fans after tendering the requested “pardon” (and avoiding a larger fine).
On June 6, Kerala Blasters announced a “temporary halt” to the activities of their women’s football team as the men’s team was fined.
And you read that right: while the club is punished, the outbound men’s team (as far as is known) gets off unscathed, and the coach and team continue their jobs. The women’s team was disbanded less than a year after its formation.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that women’s football almost always becomes a liability for most of the financial stakeholders. But the Blasters’ declaration of indifference or hypocrisy, take your name – to new depths by rewarding the women’s team for the actions of the men’s team. This was a blow to women’s football in India and a blow to women’s sports in general.
– Kerala Blasters FC (@KeralaBlasters) June 6, 2023
The wording of the statement made the news worse. The club, it said, “regrets that our women’s team cannot continue operations… Full clarity on the matter will be forthcoming.” The use of clarity is ironic here, as the ramifications of the altercation became clear the moment it occurred and were precisely announced in March. It is unclear why the KBFC thought it was a good idea to fine the women’s team two months later.
Such a statement requires either astonishing indifference or boldness. The Blasters could very well say they don’t have the resources to fund women’s football – a universal reason – and so be it. They may be bigger than most clubs in India (some of them have a women’s team), but the financial burden is an understandable reason when it comes to the women’s game in India.
However, to unequivocally attribute this to the financial sanctions imposed by the national federation on the men’s team revealed their bias and lack of interest. It is Kerala Blasters Football Club. Football has no gender as stated by Manjapada, the official fan club of KBFC.
Disappointment would be a trivial matter. A pathetic decision by the management to suspend the women’s team. It’s hard to believe that the decision was made after the sanctions imposed on the club. The women’s team should never be a check box for licensing.#FootballHasNoGender https://t.co/wJB3Ch0Uzn
– Manjappada (@kbfc_manjappada) June 6, 2023
Given India’s current cultural climate, the wrestlers’ protest against sexual assault sheds light on the inherent low regard for women in Indian sports, and such a declaration is, at best, tone-deaf.
Put aside the optics of this, the decision doesn’t even pass the logic test.
As Kerala Blasters told ESPN when the team was formed last year, running their women’s football operation was a challenge, so they started small with minimal resources — youth, local players and basic scouting.
The club previously had budgets for huge signings (for the men’s team). They have loyal fans and packed home stadiums.
So, was there no alternative? Pay cuts for the real culprits, thrift in the transfer market, overseas tours and local competitions for women? Surely there is a way out that does not involve such a drastic step back.
In the same football-crazed state, Gokulam Kerala runs their men’s and women’s teams on an equal footing. The women’s team faced a huge financial burden when they were stuck in Uzbekistan and unable to play in the AFC Women’s Club Championship due to a FIFA ban in India. At the end of the day it’s a matter of preference.
It seems that women’s football is not really a priority for anyone. From the start of 2022, India’s women footballers faced:
Humiliating dismissal in home AFC Asian Cup due to covid bubble breach
Assistant coach and head of scouting sacked for sexual misconduct with under-17 team
Silence and lack of action against sex-accused man at home FIFA U-17 World Cup
A men’s team (Sudeva Delhi) wants to work with the fired coach because he is innocent until proven guilty. Eventually the club backed out.
There is no opportunity to play in Asian club competitions and no remuneration.
The IWL was played in atrocious conditions… this is the top-flight league.
A few game opportunities scheduled to clash with each other anyway.
Despite all the roadmaps and hosting rights, football has never been a fair, level playing field for women in India; Kerala Blasters is the latest to open up about this indifference. As national goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan sarcastically tweeted, “This is how women’s football will develop in India. Terrible!”
So the men’s team gets fined for what they did, and by shutting it down the women’s team gets money from their budget? Well, that’s how women’s football is developing in India. Terrible! https://t.co/0Wxh4xM6Ht
– Aditi Chauhan GK ��� (@aditi03chauhan) June 6, 2023
To their credit, most Blasters fans see this reason.
These same fans fully supported Vukomanovic and the walkout and stood by the team through it all. Indeed, these fans have constantly elevated Blasters matches with their passion and participation, making KBFC’s ISL games among the best in the country and generating a lot of goodwill for the club.
Most of them are standing with the now defunct women’s team and calling out the Blasters’ reign. Not something the powers that be expected, given how they enjoyed unquestioning support. They may even be banking on this support to turn the situation around because the appeal didn’t work.
However, the famous yellow sea of Blasters fans is likely to rise again in the new season, ticket sales will continue and the men’s team will have all the resources.
Women’s team may return soon; This on and off attitude is exactly what clubs like East Bengal have done with their women’s team in the past. But don’t let this episode go unnoticed. Women don’t have to sacrifice what men do when men go out to play.
While today’s news may look like a corner being conceded, it’s actually a spectacular own goal.