US women’s soccer great urges India to build on hosting Fifa events
American football legend Kristine Lilly has seen the game evolve in her country at every step. In her 23-year international career, she made 354 appearances—a record by any player. Lilly has five FIFA Women’s World Cup medals and three Olympic medals.
Perhaps the most important was the 1999 World Cup, when she stood on the podium wearing a gold medal before her home fans. It inspired a new generation of players, leading to USA’s back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2019.
Lilly is optimistic something similar can kick-start in India, which will host the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup next year. “Having the U-17 World Cup is going to change the landscape of women’s football in the country,” Lilly, in Mumbai for the launch of the event’s emblem, said in an interview on Sunday. “Young girls are going to get a chance to watch it. To see it up close and getting a chance to watch the Indian women play, girls can go, ‘wow, I want to do that too’” the 48-year-old added.
However, Lilly said India can’t simply rest on the laurels of holding another global event, three years after successfully hosting the men’s U-17 FIFA World Cup.
“You’ve got to keep it rolling. It shouldn’t be just, ‘Ok, the World Cup happened and we’re done’. The focus should be on how can we help grow what we already have, how can we continue to give girls the opportunity and how do we offer more football to the young kids to get them interested”
Women’s football in India has seen a slow yet steady growth over the years. The Indian Women’s League was launched in 2016 and the senior national team—ranked 58th in the world—gets more training and exposure trips now. However, it pales in comparison to the popularity the men’s team enjoys.
“If you respect the women like you respect the men, you’re investing in it and getting the support from corporates, (then) things will get better. There’s also the culture side of it—whether the girls should be playing a sport. The mindset of the people that think otherwise needs to change.”
Lilly backed the USA women team’s demand for pay parity with the men’s team. “In the US, it’s changing quite a bit. But it’s still about the little things—sure, you have a national team that’s pretty good, but when we practice, do we get the same facilities; or when we travel, do we get the same hotels and flights as the men? That’s the respect I’m talking about.”