PETALING JAYA: In a male-dominated sport like football, it is rare to see women play the sport, much less coach others to be footballers, especially young boys.
But that did not stop Keshika Subbarao from breaking all gender barriers and pursuing her dream of becoming a part of the football world that she so loves.
The 27-year-old has not only been coaching football for nearly 10 years now but is also the sports ambassador for the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), a Malaysian NGO that provides free shelter, counselling, and crisis support to abused women and children.
Keshika tells FMT that it was at the tender age of five when she first fell in love with football.
“I watched my first Manchester United game and was immediately taken by the sport,” she shares with FMT, adding that she dreamed no end of playing the sport herself someday in school.
However, it was not meant to be.
She says that although she played basketball and volleyball in school, playing football, which she loved the most, was never an option – not for girls at her school anyway.
“Because of that I got involved with the media aspect of football when I was just 14 years old as it allowed me some form of participation in the sport.”
In fact, after completing her law degree, she began writing extensively for various international football media outlets before finding her way into coaching football, a job she has thrown herself into full time now.
Today, she has not only coached football teams in Malaysia but also in the UK and the UAE. “I’ve been coaching for so long that I have honestly lost count of the number of teams I’ve coached,” she laughs.
Unfortunately, her journey has come with its share of heartache and injustice, particularly in the way male and female football players are treated.
She relates her training experience when playing for a semi-pro club in the UK at the age of 17.
“I noticed that the male teams were given better infrastructure, like training pitches and locker rooms, and they also had access to physiotherapists and enjoyed better exposure as compared to the female team.”
It is also her opinion that the female teams were regarded as less important to the football club.
Being in a male-dominated sport has been challenging, sometimes even frustrating, she says. As a female coach, she has personally faced discrimination both in the workplace as well as on social media.
“More often than not, female coaches are seen as less capable or are treated as glorified babysitters,” she says, highlighting the sexism she has had to contend with.
But being as passionate as she is about all-things football, she has continued to stand up to the constant harassment and bullying and still coaches football albeit online at the moment due to the pandemic.
Aside from coaching, Keshika is also the sports ambassador of the WAO, a role she accepted in February last year.
In this role, she works hard to bring attention to issues related to the rights of young girls and continues to empower this segment of society while providing visibility for those who wish to pursue sports.
Keshika advises young girls hoping to pursue a career in sports to have a firm belief in their abilities and to stick to their dreams with courage.
“It might not be an easy journey but just know that you deserve to chase your dreams just as much as anyone else.”
Check out Keshika on Instagram to follow her work and her efforts to inspire young girls to pursue the sport of their choice.