Acceptance and support to pave the way for South Asian women in football

Subhasini Naicker Wednesday 03rd April 2024 06:35 EDT

Millie Chandarana, a midfielder for Blackburn Rovers, made history by becoming the first British South Asian woman to secure a professional contract with the club. 

She also stands as the sole player from her community with a professional deal in the Barclays Women's Championship and has been honoured with the world's inaugural South Asians in Football Leadership scholarship. 

Her football journey commenced at the age of eight when she joined a local girls' club, where she discovered a supportive community of fellow football enthusiasts. Since then, Millie has not only showcased her talent in England but also in various countries including San Marino, the United Arab Emirates, and Italy.

In an interview with Asian Voice, Millie discussed the cultural expectations and stereotypes often associated with women in sports, along with her aspirations and goals for the South Asian women's football community.

How do you navigate cultural expectations or stereotypes associated with women in sports, and specifically in football within your community?

Over the past few decades, women's participation in sports has faced significant challenges and discrimination, with notable progress seen only in the last five to ten years. Previously, women were barred from playing football, but now there's a growing recognition of their ability to excel in the sport. Despite this progress, there are lingering stereotypes and barriers, particularly for South Asian women. Cultural factors and broader societal attitudes have made it difficult for them to engage in sports, including football. However, there's a positive shift underway, with more South Asian girls getting involved in football. While there's still work to be done, the increasing participation suggests a hopeful trend toward greater inclusivity and opportunities for South Asian women in sports.

There are persistent stereotypes surrounding women in football, as well as South Asians in the sport, which, in my view, are completely unfounded. However, one challenge we faced in the past was the lack of professionalism within the game. Now, with football becoming more professional, we are treated as full-time athletes, which helps dispel these stereotypes. As women's participation in sports increases, we see more representation in the media, both on the field and in broadcast studios. 

Personally, as a South Asian woman in football, it has been challenging at times. However, I've always focused on my love for the game and remained dedicated. Perseverance and staying true to my passion for football have been key in overcoming obstacles.

Could you elaborate on the support system you have had throughout your football career, both within your family and from the broader community?

My family has been incredibly supportive of my football journey since I was young. Coming from a football-loving household, sports have always been a big part of our lives. They've been there every step of the way, attending games, guiding me through academies, and encouraging my passion for the sport. Now that women have the opportunity to pursue football as a career, they fully support my decision to pursue it professionally.

While there's generally a lot of support for women in football, especially from the wider community. The community must encourage and accept younger girls who aspire to play football and pursue it as a career. There needs to be a shift in perception to recognise football as a viable and stable career option, rather than adhering to traditional career paths. Greater acceptance and support from the community will pave the way for more South Asian women to thrive in football.

What are your aspirations and goals within football, both personally and for the broader South Asian women's football community?

I aspire to continue playing football at the highest level possible for as long as I can, striving to compete as a professional and dedicating myself as a full-time athlete. In terms of the broader community, I envision a future where South Asian girls have increased opportunities to enter academies, pursue careers in football, and make their debut in first teams. I hope to see more representation of South Asian players in leagues like the Championships and the Women's Super League (WSL) in the coming years.

What steps can be taken to further promote and support women's involvement in sports, particularly in football, both on and off the field?

Investing in women in sports is absolutely crucial. We've witnessed the tremendous success of women's sports, particularly in football, with events like the World Cup and the Euros drawing huge crowds and global viewership. These achievements not only inspire countless individuals but also bring significant funds to the game. It's essential to have women advocating for other women in sports, whether they're players, coaches, or involved in the business side of football. This support and representation are vital for the continued growth and success of the sport.

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