Indian football player Dalima Chhibber on women in sports, favourite football player and future of football
The Indian women's football team has come a long way and while they did not play at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France, they are neatly ranked at 63 but still have a long way to go. Ahead of the final, we talk to Indian football and central midfielder about what it's like to be a woman playing sports in India, her favourite women footballer and how Indian women are going to take the football dream further.
You have been with the Indian football team since your U-14 days, do you think people know the women’s team as much as the men’s team now more than before? What do you think is the reason?
I would just say that people don’t really know the women’s team as much as the men’s team. Although the perception has changed a lot over the years because when I started playing football there were not many girls who used to play football around. People did not know much about football either but now I see many talking about it on social media and all over and now people in India are actually sitting and watching the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and it has changed massively but still, you can’t compare women’s football with men’s football, because the latter is way ahead.
Do you think there has been a change after the 2019 SAFF Women’s Championship win? If it’s too early, what kind of change do you see happening in the coming few years?
I feel there has definitely been a change and the fifth win for us and the SAFF has been able to grab a lot of eyes towards women’s football in India. Although, the kind of attention that women’s football has got is not enough and full as men’s football gets. But, I think with the U17 FIFA World Cup starting soon I think it will bring a lot of attention and will make India a hub for football, not only for men but also for women with maybe a lot of experience coming in and a lot of different structures also being a part of it, as it will hopefully become a professional.
The Indian women’s football team has played 18 matches already this year, the most in the last few years. What do you think has changed?
Definitely, the number of matches we have played this year, which is at its maximum in the last few years will help women’s football in India. Our performance in the last four months and the 18 matches that we played, our performance has spoken for itself because for us to be winning twice against a country like Myanmar, which is ranked 44th in the world, and then drawing the match with a scoreline of 3-3 speaks volumes. It is not like we were somewhere behind with points with Myanmar but we were just left out on the slight margin of goal difference from qualifying to the third round of the Olympic qualifiers and I feel if this continues with the exposure, women’s football can do a lot of progress in India, especially. And I always say, our immediate goal right now is to be a powerhouse in Asia and I don’t see it as a very difficult step because it is just about continuity and a proper frame structure in the country that would help women’s football reach that height, as soon as possible.
You have been compared to the likes of David Beckham because of your exceptional freekicks. Which international women footballer do you identify your style with?
I think I have been following American soccer player Carli Lloyd since I was really young and I still do identify myself as her in the field because first of all, she carries herself with that confidence of taking risks in the field, and that is what I really like. For her attempting that kick from the half-line in the final match against Japan in the World Cup and for me, I took that ball in that match against Nepal was similar, so that is why somewhere I do identify myself as her. I do see myself scoring a lot of goals and so does she, and even though my position is a little different as a central midfielder.
There are always skeptics questioning women’s ability to play football because that is ‘not their place. What do you think is the one advantage women have that men don’t while playing football?
I would say there is not any particular advantage that women’s football has over men’s football because women’s football all around the globe, is struggling to get equal pay. For there to be gender equality in sports, I don’t really think there is an advantage but every time a woman opts for sports as their career or they plan to go out on the football pitch to play, I think every point is a proving point for them to say that they can do it along with the other things they are doing or that society says they are supposed to be doing. So, I don’t really think there is an advantage but a lot of people like Brazilian forward Marta (UN Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sports) who are fighting for gender equality in the FIFA World Cup. We see the best player in the world, Ada Hegerberg is not playing the World Cup because she is fighting for equal pay. I think we just need to keep proving ourselves at every point.
Do you think the importance being given to the women’s cricket team will help elevate the importance given to the football team in India?
I don’t think the importance given to the women’s cricket team will help the women’s football team in India. But, I feel in general it will help to elevate the idea of women in sports in the country altogether.
You can play at various positions on the football field. Which one is your favourite and why?
My favourite position is the central midfielder because that position requires a lot of holding the play and controlling it, and I like to do that. I see myself as a distributor of the ball and I love scoring goals. I just enjoy myself there and I feel free and like myself when I play that position.
What is the one advantage you think the Indian women’s team has over teams from other countries?
I think the one advantage that the Indian team has over other women’s football teams in the world is that we are a really young team with the average team being just 21. So, I feel that is one of the biggest advantages we have because we are a fitter side, and with the continuity, with such a young team there is a lot to be achieved in the coming few years.
Who is the one person you go to for advice in the Indian women’s football team?
I feel Anju Tamang is the one player who I talk to in the dressing room, it is not advice really but whenever we both have to talk about our performance on the field or any problem we are facing in the field, I feel it is the two of us who always have each other’s back and we go to each other for help. So, she is the one I talk a lot to about my performance and what could be done better.
What is Dalima doing when she is not playing football or training?
When I am not playing football, I am usually reading books because I like reading a lot or I am watching movies with my Dad but i prefer reading or studying because I am a student. I have completed my bachelors in psychology and I will be pursuing my masters in sports psychology.