ISL semis fallout: Kerala Blasters ‘pauses’ women's team
Club cites AIFF's ₹4 crore fine and possible sanction from league as reason for its decision
The aftershock of Kerala Blasters walking off the Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final is being felt by their women’s team. On Tuesday, the franchise announced it had “temporarily paused” women’s football activities because of the financial sanctions imposed by All India Football Federation (AIFF) for what their men’s team did last March.
The decision comes at a time of growing efforts at gender parity in sport that includes having equal prize money and match fees. It was met with criticism in India and abroad. “So, the men's team gets a fine for what they did and the money comes from the women's team budget by shutting it down? Great, that's how women's football will develop in India. Horrible!," said India goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan on Twitter.
Also Read: India captain Ashalata slams Kerala Blasters ‘disgusting’ move to ‘temporary pause women’s team’ after men’s ISL fines
Chauhan’s international teammate and Indian Women’s League (IWL) champions Gokulam Kerala’s defensive lynchpin Ashlata Devi called it “disgusting” on Instagram. India and Odisha FC forward Anju Tamang’s Instagram story had the Kerala Blasters media release with this comment: “Very disappointing. Why? Us Always.” Hedvig Lindahl, a legendary Swedish goalkeeper with 193 caps, reacted to the news by saying on social media, “when will women’s football be fully respected?”
Former Kerala Blasters player Apurna Narzary had no inkling that this was coming. Three days ago, she had spoken to Blasters’ women’s team coach Shereef Khan. “We keep talking as I ask him for tips,” said Narzary, an India forward, over the phone from Kokrajhar, Assam. “This feels bad.”
Narzary, midfielder Naorem Priyangka Devi and forward Sunita Munda were among the six players who moved to Sethu FC for the 2022-23 IWL after Kerala Blasters failed to qualify.
Football’s authorities may have woken up late to the potential of the women’s game but, spurred no doubt by sold out stadia and a global audience of 365 million watching the 2022 European Championships final, there have been positive steps over the past year. FIFA trebled the prize purse in the 2023 women’s World Cup to $110m and has committed to equal prize money for the men’s and women’s editions in 2026 and 2027. A number of countries including women’s football superpower USA have pay parity agreements for their international men and women’s teams.
AIFF, as per its Vision 2047 plan, wants to have four-tier league structure for women by 2026 with IWL at the top of the pyramid. From 2023-24, the top eight IWL teams must have a minimum of 10 players on the roster who will be paid ₹3.2 lakh or more per season, AIFF has decided. By 2027, AIFF wants 20 states to have a tiered youth structure for women’s football.
India’s senior teams get the same daily allowance of ₹1500 which is the only payment footballers get for representing the country, said an AIFF official. Cricketers get match fees and in October 2022, Board of Control for Cricket in India said it would pay the same for men’s and women’s teams across formats. India’s national tennis championship has equal prize money and from last year, the purse in all zonal and national table tennis competitions have been the same for men and women.
The women’s team being sledge-hammered for what the men did goes against all this. In a statement released on Tuesday, three days after AIFF rejected their appeal on the ₹4 crore fine for walking off the pitch against Bengaluru FC protesting against a goal scored by Sunil Chhetri, the club announced a "temporary pause of our Women's Team (sic)."
"While we respect the authority and decisions of the federation, we cannot deny our disappointment at the impact it is likely to have across various functions of our Club (sic)," the statement said. It also pointed out that the club is awaiting further sanctions from ISL "that are only likely to augment the financial impact".
Formed in 2022, the team played in Kerala Women's League last term, finishing third. Gokulam Kerala finished on top of the standings after the nine-game league phase with 27 points. Lords FA and Kerala Blasters ended on 22 points but Kerala Blasters missed out the final because of an inferior goal difference. Lords FA beat Gokulam Kerala 5-2 in the final. Gokulam Kerala bounced back to win the 2022-23 IWL for the third straight season.
- Kerala Blasters