Playing for India Rush Soccer Club in the second season of Women’s I League in 2018, Dalima Chhibber gathered limelight for scoring a 40-yard screamer.
A year later, she repeated a similar goal from a set-piece in the Women’s SAFF Cup fixture against Nepal. The two long-range goals went viral on the social media, making her the buzz of the town.
“I used to train for long-range goals with my coach and my father ever since I started playing football. I have been scoring such goals since I was in school. It is now, with the help of social media, they are starting to get recognised,” she said.
Dalima made her India senior women’s team debut at the age of 17 in the 2016 South Asian Games. In her short career, she has displayed talent of playing at multiple positions. For India U-14 and U-16 side, she played as a striker. In the senior team, she played as a central midfielder, then moved on to become the right-back. Recently, she was handed the captaincy reigns and was used a central defender in the Indian side.
For a footballer who can adapt to various positions on the field, it is surprising to know that it was not her first calling. As a child, Dalima wanted to pursue athletics. She used to run tracks and train for athletic events at her father’s football academy. She even won medals in the 100-metres and 200-metres at state and zonal levels. Football with the boys at her father’s academy was her means of break from her athletics training.
Later, when she was 11, she accompanied her sister to a Delhi U-19 football state team trial. She was juggling and playing around with the ball at the tracks when the coach called her inside. Her father, worried that she might have been injured, went with her. Over there, the coach informed her that she has been selected for the U-19 Delhi team.
“That was the moment I realised I can take up the sport. It was my first professional tournament, and I started taking interest in it as I played alongside teams from different states. When I got to play for India in the U-14 tournament, I knew I wanted to play for the senior team one day,” she said.
But pursuing the sport was not easy for her. At the time, there weren’t many female footballers available, so Dalima had to train along with boys. Some of her relatives were not supportive, wanting her to go for athletics, which is an individual sport. But over the years, the footballer learned how to block the voices surrounding her.
This March, FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced India as the host for the upcoming U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2020. However, there appears to be hardly any setup for women’s U-17 team.
“Realistically speaking, you cannot prepare a team in one year. The federation is trying to put it together and trying to send players for exposure trips before the big tournament,” Dalima said.
In July, Dalima, who had been away from the Indian football team, explained the reasons for her absence. In a video uploaded on Twitter, she said that she is moving to Canada to pursue her higher studies in Sports Psychology. She would also be continuing with the sport for a top-tier varsity football team, while pursuing her studies.
“I am exposing myself more to the sport in Canada – the hub of women’s football. I have got 100 per cent scholarship to study on the basis of my performance. If I get to play with experienced players from all around the world, and I can manage my academics, it will develop me better as a player,” she said.
Another reason for Dalima’s big move is the financial aspects of women’s football in India. Recently, at the Women’s football World Cup in France, a huge buzz was created over the issue of wage gap between men’s and women’s sport. The Indian footballer, who was part of the Sony Network broadcast panel during the tournament, insisted that it will take a long time for the issue to resolve in India.
“Tackling wage gap is a far-fetched goal in India at the moment. This is why I decided to move to Canada rather than play for a club in Europe. Traveling to Europe is expensive. I did not receive much financial support from the sponsors or stakeholders when I asked out. I can see a future as a footballer, but football cannot sustain me in the future.
Hence, I decided to complete my studies because it is important to financially sustain yourself when playing football,” she concluded.