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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 12:50 GMT
Football film spurs on Indian girls
Parminder Nagra as Jess
'Jess' has become a role model for many Indian girls

Girls in India have been so inspired by the recent hit film Bend It Like Beckham - in which a football-mad girl defies her family to pursue sport - that there has been an explosion in interest.

So much so, it's led to the launch this month of the country's first girls' football league.

A group of Indian girls playing football used to be an extremely rare sight as it was regarded by many as a distinctly unfeminine activity.

Bend It Like Beckham has helped in the way that it's opened everyone's eyes to the fact girls can also play

League organiser Arup Das
But in recent months, so many girls have been taking it up, India's now starting its first ever girls' football league.

The craze has been sparked by the British film Bend It Like Beckham.

The film's story of a British Indian girl, who battles to play football despite her family's objections, has struck a chord here.

Hitting home

Twelve-year-old Ayesha loves playing football.

"I just love all the players - especially David Beckham."

She thought the film was amazing and the film's plot closely mirrored their own situations.

Girls in a Calcutta school.
Girls are determined to play football despite jibes from boys
"It actually happens in a lot of Indian homes. It's a story about us," she said.

In one of Delhi's top schools, parents are more enlightened than most.

But football league organisor Arup Das says there have been objections.

"A couple of parents pulled their girls out of the league because they found out they were going to be playing with boys.

"But I think Bend It Like Beckham has helped in the way that it's opened everyone's eyes to the fact girls can also play."

Opposition

Parents aren't the only problem.

Girls like Alisha say the worst ridicule comes from the boys.

Girls can do anything that guys can do

Manvi, 11
"The boys say, you know: 'You can't play. Challenge us to a match we'll beat you' and stuff.

"That's probably true but they've been training for ages and we've only just started. So we need to train a bit more, get a bit better and then we can beat them," she says.

In some schools, even teachers are prejudiced.

Bill Adams has been coaching in India for 10 years. He cites examples of blatant discrimination.

"Girls' sports are not taken seriously and there's a big discrimination in the education system for girls in sports," he said.

He said boys were given the balls at playtime while girls weren't.
Girls in a Calcutta school
It was once unusual to see girls playing football

The girls went to the authorities and asked to play football.

"They said: all the footballs have been given out. So they couldn't play at playtime and then later discovered the balls hadn't been given out," he said.

Hitting back

Bend It Like Beckham makes fun of people who say an Indian girl's marriage prospects will be ruined if she excels on a football pitch instead of in the kitchen.

Its comedy has brought fresh energy to girls struggling against stereotypes.

Eleven-year-old Manvi says her uncle still criticises her for playing football - but now, she doesn't listen.

"He just thinks that girls can't play soccer, they're too delicate and stuff.

"I don't think that's right. Girls can do anything that guys can do."

See also:

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