Indian Women's National Football team.. Image Source: IANS News

Kolkata, Nov 5 : The fact that India is hosting the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup next year is a step in the right direction, but for the sport to grow in the country there needs to be continued visibility, feels two-time World Cup winning former American forward Kristine Lilly.

"I think the visibility of the Indian U-17 team is going to make an impact and for the culture (it) is going to make an impact. You had the boys (play the 2017 U-17 World Cup when India hosted it) and now the girls, with the same respect, (this) will change people's views," Lilly told IANS in an interview.

"There needs to be continued visibility for the women's team. I think a lot of people in India don't know that they have a women's team," said Lilly who has played 354 times for the United States -- a record number of international appearances by any football player.

"What is needed is to highlight them. When they have games, let that be highlighted so that people can know and come to watch and make their own decisions about whether they like or not. And majority of them will like it. But they need to be visible. They need support and given the opportunity to train more so that they can compete at a higher level," said the 48-year old who has scored 130 goals for the United States between 1987 and 2010.

Kristine was in Mumbai recently for the official emblem launch of the tournament scheduled to be held from November 2-21 at different venues across India.

Lilly said, like in India where football is not the No. 1 sport, US has the same problem. But that has never stopped their national team from scaling new heights.

The US women's team is the most successful in the world, having won the World Cup four times, their fourth title coming in the 2019 edition of the competition in France.

"In Europe football is the No. 1 sport. In America, it's not. But our women's team does really well. So I don't think that's the answer," said the Lilly who has won gold medals at the 1996 and 2004 Olympic Games.

"But more visibility for the game (is the solution). The men's games are on TV. So you add the women's games and make them compete more. Have the team playing other top countries and it's going to draw attention. May not be the same level wise but it's going to get your attention," she suggested.

On parity of pay between the men and women footballers, she said: "Society overall is more ready for it than it was when I was younger and playing. It's time. They are humans. They are women does not mean they deserve less.

"The success of the World Cup, the biggest World Cup for women, the success we had and TV coverage wise will change more sponsorship dollars. To have more countries like India be a part of World Cup will be huge." Lilly, who retired from the US team in 2010, said she does not have plans of coaching a national team or a club in the near future but strongly batted for the need to have female coaches.

"I don't think I will coach a national team or a club. I like teaching young kids. But I think there is need for more female coaches. Women are tired of just being the minority, being around guys all the time. It's not a fun experience sometimes.

"So I think to just make women to realise that what impact they are going to make by standing in front of a group of soccer players, whether it's toddlers, or boys or girls, will start to teach people views.A female coach standing in front of a football team would be a strong message sent," she concluded.

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