The Indian women’s football team created history in Guwahati on February 15 when they clinched their second consecutive gold medal at the South Asian Games after defeating Nepal 4-0 in the final.
A key contributor in Team India’s brilliant performance throughout the tournament was 23-year-old goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan.
The footballer from Delhi was part of the gold medal-winning team in the 2012 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Games and after representing India in the U-19 and U-23 competitions, she left for England to complete her masters in sports management at the Loughborough University in Leicestershire.
Last year, she became the first Indian to play in the FA Women’s Premier League, after she made her debut for the West Ham Ladies Team against Coventry City.
Chauhan spoke to HT about the gold medal victory at the South Asian Games, her stint with West Ham and her plans for the future. Here are the excerpts:
How do you feel after winning the gold medal at the South Asian Games?
It feels great to confirm that Indian women’s football is still the best in South Asia. It was a special tournament for all of us as it was Bem di (Central midfielder Oinam Bembem Devi)’s last tournament and we wanted her career as a player to end as a champion.
What was it like to represent India again on the international stage?
It is always a pleasure and honour to represent the country. It is the dream of every professional athlete and this was the 1st time the tournament was being held in India, so it was more exciting for us as it was an opportunity for us to show the standard of women’s football to the people of the country.
What effect do you think this victory will have on women’s football in India?
I really hope that this is the start of something positive for women’s football in India. I hope it is a major push to start a professional league for women.
What is the state of women’s football in India?
There is a lot of difference in the standard of football played by girls here. I am doing my dissertation on Women’s football in England for my Masters degree, and have come across a lot of facts about FA’s investment and involvement in promoting women’s football in England.
The new semi professional league was started, clear player development path was put in order, state-of-the-art facilities were made available to all women’s squads representing the country, and as a result of all this, they won the bronze medal in the World Cup.
What are the steps that can be taken to popularize women’s football in the country?
I think AIFF should also implement some constructive strategies and start a national league soon, if they really want women’s football to progress in India.
You completed your Masters in Sports Management from Loughborough. How helpful do you think your time with the University team was for your career?
I was really happy to be able to play for Loughborough University, as it one of the top sports universities. At the end of the season, I even got the ‘Manager’s Player Award’ to appreciate my performance during the season. It definitely helped to improve as a player, which helped me during my trials at Millwall Ladies as well as West Ham Ladies.
Tell us about your stint with West Ham and what do you think about the women’s league in England?
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to play for a club like West Ham. The women’s football setup is very well structured in England, there are loads of clubs and leagues for women of all age groups playing at different standards. This has been a major reason why England women’s team has been performing so well over the past few years and I think that is something we should learn from them.
You were awarded the Asian Footballer of the Year Award some months ago. Tell us about your feelings after receiving such an honour.
I was humbled to be awarded Asian Woman Footballer of the Year, as I felt that all these years of hard work and dedication were finally being recognised at that platform and that too at Wembley stadium in London. I had never even dreamt of being honoured this way.
What’s next for you?
I am not sure of what is going to be the next step for me, but one thing is for sure that it will certainly include lots of football.