Sports Gazette

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South Asian women and football: In conversation with Millie Chandarana

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

Nelson Mandela spoke these words at the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards ceremony almost a quarter of a century ago. 

And in today’s world they certainly ring true given that sport is driving a positive change in society through increased participation of women.

Football in particular has been an agent of social change in the UK, especially since the Lionesses won the Euros on home soil in 2022 and finished as runners-up at last year’s World Cup.

March is earmarked as Women’s History Month in the United Kingdom, and this year the theme is focused on ‘Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’.

In addition, the coming weekend also marks Women’s Football Weekend in both the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship.

As the UK celebrates women and their empowerment in various fields, Sports Gazette catches up with Millie Chandarana, a footballer who plays in the Women’s Championship for Blackburn Rovers.


Women’s football: Achievements galore, but still a long way to go

Millie has dual heritage – her father is Indian and mother is English – and she is the only South Asian-origin player to have a professional contract in the Women’s Championship.

She is a trailblazer in the true sense of the word, as she had to chart her path on her own in football. When asked about female role models, she pointed towards the apparent lack of them in sport when she was growing up.

There wasn’t anyone to look up to, to have a role model. Growing up, there were only a handful of players who had professional contracts who were professional,” she said.

In today’s world, things are changing for the better: WSL matches are frequently setting attendance records, the Lionesses’ success – both on and off the pitch – has given Gareth Southgate’s charges a run for their money, and viewers’ interest has also ramped up for women’s football in the UK.

There is still a long way to go when it comes to the representation of ethnic minorities – especially South Asians – in the beautiful game, but Chandarana is hopeful of a better future for South Asian girls in football.

“Ten years down the line, we’ll see a lot more South Asian players with professional contracts, and even playing internationally,” the Blackburn Rovers player said.


Self-belief: The key to succeed in any field

As a player with dual heritage, Chandarana has had her fair share of challenges in terms of her identity in football. 

“Some people think I’m English, some people think I’m Italian, some people think I’m Indian, and some people don’t even realise I have an Indian surname.

“All my life, people haven’t been able to pronounce or spell my name,” the 27-year-old midfielder said.

South asian Women Football

Millie Chandarana (in dark blue) in action in the Women’s Championship (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

But, she believes that sincere effort coupled with self-belief is the key to unlocking success in any field in life.

“You’ve got to believe that you can do something because if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to have a chance.

“You’ve got to have that drive within yourself to go and do something,” she said.


South Asian girls and their pursuit of professional sport

Parents in South Asian households are stereotyped as being overly obsessed with their children’s education, and are never seen as proponents of participation in sports – cue Bend It Like Beckham.

“When I was a teenager, I didn’t really know any South Asian parents who were pushing their kids to play professionally,” said Chandarana.

Notwithstanding this, South Asian parents have lately begun to support their children in their pursuit of playing professional sports.

“With the success of women’s football at the minute, I see a lot more support from families, from parents, and from relatives,” said the former Loughborough Foxes player.

Chandarana also gave some valuable advice to South Asian girls who are starting out at the grassroots level in any sport in the UK.

“You’ve just got to go for it and try it. Just play the sport, because a lot of people are in a sport for a reason, because they love to play it.

“And you’ve got to remember why you’re in the sport sometimes and just go and play.”


  • Chaitanya Kohli

    Sports journalist with a keen interest in covering stories about European club football and the history of the beautiful game. Passionate Barcelona and Messi supporter. Perennially interested in bringing out inspiring stories about Indian football on the global stage.