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Sara Pilot: When I joined AIFF, I was the only woman; now it has changed

Sara Pilot, chairperson, women’s committee, All India Football Federation (AIFF), feels the ecosystem surrounding women’s football is getting better but still has scope for improvement.

“Girls want to play football and develop skills, but several barriers stop them from entering. It’s just not about them playing, but it’s about them developing the capacity to keep progressing to get administrative roles in the field of sports,” said Sara, who was speaking at a webinar hosted by The Centre for India Australia Studies at the O.P. Jindal Global University on “Representation of Women in Sports Governance” on Wednesday.

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“When I joined All India Football Federation, I was the only woman (in the board), and during the meetings, only the last one or two minutes would be allotted to women’s football. Now it has changed,” she continued.

“When India hosted the 2017 U17 FIFA World Cup for boys, I had to push the Federation to host the event for girls also,” she added. India was to host the 2020 FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup but was cancelled due to COVID-19. India is scheduled to host the tournament in 2022 from October 11-30.

Sara’s colleague at the AIFF, Anjali Shah, co-founder of Premier India Football Academy, said India is lagging in women taking up directorial roles in sports federations and international sporting bodies. “We are what Australia was 30 years ago,” she said.

Juanita Maiden, who is a director at the Queensland Cricket and Queensland Rugby League Southeast Region, feels grateful as her board meetings have been positive to date but mentions the lack of women in directorial roles in both the boards. “As a member of Cricket Australia, our responsibilities cover all community cricket including Queensland and the Brisbane Heats in the Big Bash League and Women’s Big Bash League. The Queensland Cricket board consists of nine members with just two women. While in the Queensland Rugby League, Southeast Region there are 10 directors with three women.”

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Some of the recommendations made by the panellists to improve gender representation in sporting organisations include securing quotas for women in sporting boards, breaking myths regarding women in sports and increasing the number of women coaches and referees.

The panel included Margot Foster, Australia’s first-ever women’s rowing Olympics medallist in the coxed four event at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and director at Motorsport Australia and former director at Australian Sports Commission; Aahna Mehrotra, founder, AM Sports Law & Management Co; and Dr Johanna Adriaanse, associate in Sport Management and Expert in Sport, Women and Gender Equality, University of Technology Sydney.

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