Time for more focus be placed on women’s football

Just when one would expect the final whistle to be blown, Kanyanat Chettabutr goes on to score the fourth and final goal of the match for Thailand.

In fact, it was Kanyanat who had started the ball rolling within the first 35 seconds of the match – a goal that left the Malaysian team dazed and confused – before teammate Nutwadee Pram-nak added another goal a minute later.

Kanyanat scored another goal in the 37th minute to give Thailand a comfortable 3-0 lead before the half-time whistle was blown.

It was Malaysia’s first Women’s Asian Cup qualifying match in the West Bank over the weekend. Malaysia lost 4-0. It wasn’t pretty.

It was also a match that solidified the fact that women’s football had been generally ignored for the longest time ever.

Defenders would argue that efforts have been made, over the years, to strengthen women’s football, and that tournaments have been organised but were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These initiatives, however, are clearly insufficient. To blame the national body is easy, but the sights must also be trained on schools, universities, and communities.

Right after the Malaysia-Thailand match ended, I ran a poll on Twitter asking Twitter users if they had a girl’s football team in school. A total of 205 votes were recorded and 97 per cent said no.

Some academies have a handful of young girls playing football, while others have slightly more. There’s an academy in Cheras that only has one young girl training with the boys.

If emphasis is not paid at the grassroots, how can we expect to create talent at the higher levels?

Young girls must be encouraged and be given equal and ample opportunity to participate in sports, including football.

There should be continuity, beyond schools. Girls and women should be playing football in universities, and even in public areas. They should be very much involved in the game, just as much as the boys and men are. Malaysia has produced several women officials such as Rita Ghani and Widiya Shamsuri, but it can surely create more.

If Thailand – placed 39th in Fifa’s women’s ranking – can do it, why not Malaysia?

But a question was thrown to me yesterday: “If the girls themselves aren’t interested, how can we unearth talents?”

If true, it is for the stakeholders to find out why there is this presumed general disinterest in the sport.

It’s their job to get the young girls and the community excited. It’s also the job of the stakeholders to create role models so that more young girls would be eager to play football.

This goes beyond the sport. It is also about creating an active and healthy population.

The 4-0 defeat against Thailand was more than just a qualifier match. It was a match that got some of us talking about women’s football.

Now is the time to take those conversations, good or bad, to the next level – by translating them into action.

The national women’s team will complete its Group H fixture against hosts Palestine tomorrow.

Regardless of the outcome and performance of the national team in that match, let’s not forget the fact that more emphasis must be placed on women’s football.

It deserves the same attention and respect as the boys’ and men’s teams.