Inspire Cup: A grassroots tournament committed to girls’ football in India
In 2018, Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA), a sport for development initiative of Rural Development Trust (RDT), partnered with La Liga Foundation and La Liga to create equal opportunities for girls and boys to access their right to play in rural communities of Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, India. Since the inception of the project, there has been a drastic rise in girls’ participation in football, in part due to increased access to sports equipment and playing space, which led to the creation of a residential football program for the talented girls from rural communities of Anantapur in 2021. Currently, 20 talented U16 girls from rural regions of the district have received full scholarships supporting their football training and academic education.
In recent times, there has been growing attention towards women’s football in India, as the country hosted the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and the U17 FIFA Women’s World Cup, inspiring many young girls to take up football. But one of the main challenges at the grassroots level is the lack of quality competitive exposure for clubs and academies working with younger girls compared to boys, for whom there are many private leagues and tournaments or association tournaments organized.
Seeing the growing need for the quality competitive exposure and lack of opportunities for the girls from the younger age, RDT – La Liga created Inspire Cup, a U16 football tournament for the girls’ academies and clubs in India. Along with creating a platform for girls to compete, it also wants to use football as tool to bring together girls from various socio-economic backgrounds to interact with their peers from around India.
The first edition of the Inspire Cup was organized in 2022, with 5 girls’ teams. The second edition of the tournament took place in January 2023, and witnessed 126 players from 7 teams. Compassion FC Goa won the tournament after a final match against the Anantapur Sports Academy Girls’ Team.
Ms. Ishita, one of the participants from Yuwa India’s team, said, “I think there is much to learn from this Inspire Cup. The football matches with other teams have made me understand how to play better. We used to play in small mud fields in Ranchi, and ASA’s facilities help us play without injuries and participate in a tournament which gives more exposure to meet new people, which we don't get to do back home.”
The Cup took place at ASA’s residential facility, where the girls played their matches on natural grass surface, something many participants noted to have enjoyed since they don’t have regular access to quality infrastructure. The Cup also encouraged girls from different backgrounds to come together and build a bond of friendship through participation in various fun activities, like a campfire and quiz on football.
Former Indian football player and head coach of the U20 Indian women’s football team, Ms. Maymol Roy, was the Chief Guest at the event. She shared her words of motivation, saying, "I think there is no substitution for hard work; you have to give your best. Inspire Cup is the right platform for you to do that. The nation is searching for players; remember that it is not you searching for the national team but the national team searching for you.”
Talking about the tournament, Sanjeev Sangwan, RDT Finance Director, said, “The Inspire Cup is the result of the efforts to create a quality platform for girls in India to compete, gain exposure, and showcase their skills while breaking gender stereotypes. It is crucial to have a quality platform for good female football players. This also increases opportunities for female athletes to represent their teams and showcase their skills in a safe and competitive environment. We observe that their skills are improving every season, and we believe this tournament can open up pathways into more opportunities for the girls.”
The AFC and FIFA tournaments can inspire young girls to take up football in India, but there is need in the grassroots to use these moments to encourage girls to play football and carry the legacy of these tournaments. This can be done by supporting the these young girls by providing them with equal and quality platforms from a younger age, in terms of coaches and competitive exposure, to pursue their dream of playing professional football. Inspire Cup is a small initiative by RDT – La Liga to fill the gap in women’s football and make girls dream big.