It was a special moment in Indian Football as All India Football Federation launched its bid for the AFC Asian Cup 2027. AIFF President Praful Patel and Hon’ble Minister of Sports & Youth Affairs Kiren Rijiju launched the bid book along with the bid logo. Special guests along with them included three generations of Indian footballers – past, present and future – represented by former India defender Gourmangi Singh, Indian women’s football captain Ashalata Devi and India U-16 star Shubho Paul.
A young hesitant Paul, overawed by all the media attention on him, was feeling a bit out of place and it took a bit of a pep talk from Ashalata Devi for him to confidently face the camera.
For Ashalata, it was easy to empathise with the position Paul was in as few years back she herself was in a familiar position. It hasn’t often happened that a women’s football captain comes in as one of the special guests for launching an AFC Asian Cup bid for a nation. The fact that she represented the current generation of Indian stars made the occasion more memorable for her.
“This shows the importance AIFF is giving to women’s football now. Earlier, no one would have known who is the captain of the women’s team but now I am being invited as a guest for such a big occasion. I don’t think any other country had their women’s team captain present for the bid launch. I am extremely proud.”
Ashalata will also get an opportunity to play the Asian Cup in front of her home fans before the men’s team, with AFC Asian Women’s Cup scheduled in 2022 to be held in India.
“It will be a huge honour to represent India on such a big stage. The whole team is excited about it and we are preparing really well for it. We saw the U-17 World Cup in 2017 and the kind of support that the team got. We are hopeful of getting the same support.”
One of the other important aspects for Ashalata is to inspire the next generation of women footballers in India.
“One thing I would like to say is that it’s important to start young. I started playing football when I was 12,13 but you have players starting at 7,8. Those 4-5 years are really important in the formation of the player and learning the basics.
“I hope the two tournaments that we are hosting next year – AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 and FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022 inspire new girls to take up football. When they see us playing in front of packed stadiums, it will definitely motivate them.”
She is also optimistic about India’s chances of winning the bid for AFC Asian Cup 2027.
“We have the infrastructure and would have already hosted a few big tournaments by then. It will also be a great chance for other Asian fans to see India and the passion that the country has for football. I hope we can pull this off.”