Driven by sheer passion for football

MONOLISA

Beating the stereotype that football is not for women, a number of young female players in Singapore have taken to the sport. And now they have another reason to rejoice.

The Women's Premier League (WPL) has a title sponsor for the first time - Deloitte is pumping in $300,000.

"Unlike the male players in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), we are not paid a monthly salary," said M. Monessha Nair, a 27-year-old primary school physical education teacher who plays for Tiong Bahru.

"We play out of self-interest and passion without any financial support and encouragement. This title sponsorship is a real encouragement for us."

Monessha enjoys the practice sessions, which are happening regularly after two years of Covid-19.

"I still remember playing football with my friends and cousins when we were younger, kicking around a big, plastic bottle," said the striker.

"Without knowing the game and its rules properly, we would play by folding our hands behind our backs.

"Also, right from a young age, I would prefer watching football games on television over cartoons and other entertainment shows."

Lion City Sailors player Munirah Mohamad pointed out that women's football doesn't catch people's interest because there is a dearth of publicity.

"During competitions, it is a pain to see the stadium with mostly empty seats," said the defender.

The 25-year-old, however, is confident women's football in Singapore will be able to attract a wider audience online and in the stadiums.

The computer science engineering student's father is a football coach, who helps her with her daily training sessions and fine-tunes her technique.

"I was four years old when I first got to kick the ball in a children's football workshop," she said.

"I got interested in football seeing my father coach his students. He advised me that it is important to stay physically fit and mentally strong."

Tiong Bahru player Saranya Thiru believes that "schools are the best place for children to pick up an interest in football".

"Hence, it is essential to provide football coaching for girls in all primary and secondary schools," said the 24-year-old midfielder.

"There shouldn't be gender bias in sports coaching at school level. As it is now, it is already a difficult journey for girls to pursue this sport, with minimum support and very little recognition."

The full-time software engineer in a private organisation took up football seriously after secondary school.

"I chose a junior college that could provide football coaching exclusively for women and got trained properly," she said. "During my undergraduate studies, I met my current coach and on his encouragement, I joined Tiong Bahru five years ago."

Malavika Hemanth took up football because sports is in her genes. "My dad is a football coach and my mother is interested in sports," said the 27-year-old Still Aerion centre-back who works in the logistics department of a private company.

"It is always challenging to find a life between hectic work schedules and tiring practice sessions. Nevertheless, the sense of satisfaction with my consistency and progress in football keeps me going every single day.

"With more support and opportunities, women can strive to excel in football because we know what it's like to start with nothing."

The WPL season started on May 28 after a two-year hiatus. It will end in mid-October. Hougang United, Balestier Khalsa, Albirex Niigata, Lion City Sailors, Tiong Bahru, Still Aerion and Tanjong Pagar United figure in the league, which is played in a double round-robin format.

Tanjong Pagar currently top the table, with Tiong Bahru second.

The prize money for the winners has been quadrupled to $25,000. The team that finishes second will get $10,000 and third, $7,500.

Only players aged 16 and above are allowed to play in the WPL. Each team can field up to four foreign players. All matches are held at Yishun Stadium and entry is free.

monolisa@sph.com.sg

"With more support and opportunities, women can strive to excel in football because we know what it's like to start with nothing."

- Malavika Hemanth (left, in blue)

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