India's women's soccer players are in despair and unsure of their future after a FIFA ban caused the nation to lose a significant international competition and put its best team in jeopardy.
The national federation was suspended this week by the global governing body of the sport "due to undue influence from third parties"; member associations must be free from governmental and political meddling.
The long-term ban had an immediate effect on Indian football, affecting both men's and women's teams at all levels, from the elite to amateur.
The under-17 Women's World Cup, scheduled to start on October 11 in India, will not go on as scheduled at this time. It was planned to be the nation's first FIFA competition since 2017.
The punishment also fell on the Asian Football Confederation Women's Club Championship, which was being played in Uzbekistan and featuring Indian league champions Gokulam Kerala FC, who were going for their first championship.
They were only informed of the FIFA ban when their flight touched down in Tashkent, and they have since been prohibited from competing.
“We have put in so much hard work for the last two months and all the players were preparing to win the AFC trophy as well,” club captain Ashalati Devi, also skipper of the national women’s team, told India News.
“It remains our dream to lift the title,” said Devi, describing the team as “distressed by all this”.
Gokulam put out a statement lamenting that it had been stopped from playing through “no fault of ours”.
“Our women’s team is the pride and jewel for all of us and these players have proved themselves to be the best in India,” it said.
Lavanya Verma, who was short-listed for the U17 World Cup squad, pointed the finger at the AIFF.
“The main reason for the ban is poor governance, but we innocent players have to suffer,” the 17-year-old said.