Overcoming societal taboos to relish national team dream

  • 2023-01-05

Dipa Shahi fondly remembers the days she fell in love with football. At her home in Kharpunath, Humla, Shahi saw boys kicking a rugged ball while playing the game. She soon befriended those playing boys and started playing with them. Shahi had no proper boots or kits and lived in a society which frowned upon the girls playing the game. "Even my parents said it would be a sin for a girl to play football with the boys because the boys legs would touch me. Still I kept playing."

Despite an unsupportive family and society behind her, Shahi continued playing football at her school. "Football tournaments in schools were few. Whatever tournaments were organized, they were for boys. I had no other option than to play with the boys," says Shahi.

After completing her school level examination, Shahi came to Kathmandu to begin her further studies. "Studies was always my family's first priority. I continued my higher studies and also continued playing football." Shahi now began to play futsal in Kathmandu. One day a friend of hers heard of a girl's competition in Surunga, Jhapa. There was a break in her study, so she and her friend decided to take part in the competition. "I don't remember the name of the competition but the winner's prize money was Rs 100,000." That tournament in Jhapa would soon become the beginning of her footballing journey she had barely imagined.

Kankai Municipality in Jhapa was looking to assemble a team to take part in the Deputy Mayor Cup National Women’s League Qualifiers 2078. During the tournament Shahi was playing, Kankai's coach Santa Bahadur Rayamajhi's eye was soon caught up by a young girl displaying a matured performance in the midfield with her passing and ball distribution skills. Shahi said Rayamajhi came up and spoke to her and included her in the team for the Qualifiers.

"The Qualifiers was the first time I had played in such a big ground in front of such a crowd. I was nervous at first but it soon fizzled out," she remembers. Shahi and Kankai Municipality reached the final four of the competition narrowly missing out on the final berth in the National Women's League 2078 but Shahi's on-field performance soon caught eyes of many.

Shahi was called up for the 2021 SAFF U-19 Women's Championship to be held in Bangladesh. It would mark her first major tournament for her country. But things turned sour when Shahi broke her hand just 20 minutes into the first match against Bangladesh. The injury meant her time in the competition came to an abrupt end.

Shahi returned to the national side in the 2022 SAFF U-18 Women's Championship held in India. Shahi did score a goal against Bangladesh in Nepal's second game of the competition. A call up for the national side beckoned.

After an approach from departmental giant Tribhuvan Army Football Club, Shahi represented them in the National Women's League 2078 in Chitwan. Halfway through completion, Shahi believes she still can help her team catch the leaders in the league table.

Shahi's describes her goal against Sri Lanka in the SAFF Women's Championship 2022 as the best moment in her footballing career. After making to the final squad of the Championship, Shahi debuted for the senior national side in the victory against Bhutan and scored her first goal for her country against Sri Lanka. Nepal reached the finals but were denied the title by Bangladesh. "A title would have been the cherry on the top but it's football and things always don't go your way," she said.

While playing at her home in Humla, Shahi said, she had never thought of representing the national side. "My parents always stressed to focus on my studies. In younger days everyone back at my home said one has to become a doctor or a pilot to make a name for oneself." Now a regular in the national side, Shahi plans to balance her studies with her playing career. "I have continued my studies and I now scan proudly go back to my home and say everyone that one doesn't need to become a doctor or pilot to become famous, you can do that by kicking a ball."

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