It all began on a fated night at Kanteerava three months ago when Ivan Vukomanovic blew the veritable clarion, calling back his Kerala Blasters side from the pitch, bringing the game to an alarming halt, and announcing the commencement of several harrowing implications for the Indian Super League club.
The Blasters were up against the home side, Simon Grayson’s Bengaluru FC, in an all-important playoff clash in the ISL, where a win would grant them a spot in the semi-finals. The game boiled down to extra time, and while the Blasters were busy preparing the wall for a free kick in the 96th minute, Sunil Chettri chipped the ball past a bewildered Prabsukhan Singh Gill in goal. Crystal John blew his whistle to award the goal and chaos followed.
The All India Football Federation was naturally not pleased and handed the club a Rs 4 crore fine along with a 10-game suspension and a fine of Rs 5 lakhs for Head Coach Ivan Vukomanovic. KBFC went on to appeal this decision but to no avail, as the AIFF rejected it, asking the club to “pay the respective fines within two weeks”.
On June 6, the Blasters issued a statement, announcing the ludicrous decision of a “temporary pause of our Women’s team” due to the “recent financial sanctions imposed on our club”. The sheer audacity of the decision and the poor wording of the statement has precipitated a major backlash from fans, journalists, commentators, and other professionals alike on social media. The Manjappada, KBFC’s fan club vehemently revoked the decision.
The decision of one man in a frenzy has resulted in a whole squad of young women athletes, the coaches, the support staff, and everyone associated with the team staring at an uncertain future. Rendering a host of innocent young players unemployed just so that the men’s team can survive in the cash-rich ISL is a petrifying prospect that is soon to be realized.
The unfathomable decision further exemplifies the priorities that the stakeholders have at the club, which provides a larger commentary on the state of women’s football in the nation today. Indian Women’s National Team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan emphasized the hypocrisy of the situation in a tweet.
After the gut-wrenching exit of India from the AFC Women’s Asia Cup in January 2022 due to COVID cases and the infamous ban imposed by FIFA upon the AIFF in August of the same year, Indian Football has once again got international attention for the wrong reasons. Hedvid Lindahl, one of the best shot-stoppers of our generation in the women’s game, expressed her concerns regarding the situation, as have a host of other commentators and presenters from Europe’s top leagues.
If the Kerala Women’s League was to follow a similar schedule from last year, it will kick off in a couple of months. Given the fact that the men’s side will splash their cash to build a competitive side for the ISL season as the transfer window is on, it is highly unlikely that the women’s team can compete in the local league this year.
This news comes less than a fortnight after the Indian Women’s League, one of the worst leagues ever organized in the country came to a close. Dark days continue for women footballers in the country as the shorter end of the stick seems to be inherently theirs. People in power are appallingly struggling to devise a proper space for them to find their due acclaim or at the very least, allow them to do what they love.
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