Meet Aisha Nazia, the only Indian woman among 30 selected for the FIFA Master Programme 2021
Twenty-six-year-old Aisha Nazia hails from Kozhikode, Kerala, which is crazy about football. Naturally, it rubbed off on her too, and she grew up watching and dissecting the game.
In fact, Aisha was more intrigued about what happened behind the scenes — the whole management of the sport that led to victories or defeats and how footballers became legends in their own right.
However, the journey to become the football professional she is today, or to become the only Indian woman to be chosen out of 30 selected for the FIFA Master course this year was not easy.
Aisha’s parents divorced when she was five; her mother remarried, and living with her stepfather was an ordeal.
“I was doing my schooling in Chennai, where the school was attached to an orphanage. I would often wonder if any good set of parents would adopt me. The nuns at the convent would ask me to work hard, and I thought that was the only way out of my miserable life,” she recalls.
Aisha was a topper throughout her academic career. She also received an Rs 8 lakh scholarship from the Kerala government to pursue mechanical engineering at TKM Engineering College, Kollam.
Thus, at 18, Aisha started her journey towards independence and found a set of good friends, and in them, a family she always craved.
After completing her course, Aisha was appointed as a mechanical engineer at Indian Oil-Adani Gas and moved to Kochi.
By the time Aisha was a teenager, she had already watched three football World Cups, and her interest in the game was as strong as ever. She was looking for an opportunity in sports alongside a day job as she believed a horizontal career was more her forte.
“When the FIFA Under-17 World Cup came to India in 2017, I applied to be part of the team. I thought even I didn’t have a sports management degree, I had other qualities like analytical, cognitive, and problem-solving skills, thanks to my engineering background. I passed the interview and was appointed workforce manager. At 23, I became their youngest employee,” she says.
She explains that it was more like a “chief-of-staff” role, where she managed all departments and the people who worked for different departments. This gave her valuable insights into how the sporting industry worked and what she could do.
When the National Basketball Association (NBA) came to India, Aisha was part of that event too — one among 200 Americans in the team. With each experience, she was game for more, establishing her credentials in the sports management field in India.
A multi-potent career
The rigour of the sports field led Aisha to leave her job at Indian Oil. To be able to earn a secure income, she started product consulting with leading startups in Bengaluru like Aquaconnect and Spottabl, who also recognised her sporting spirit and encouraged her when she had to attend events.
“I am more of a horizontal career kind of person. I do multiple things at a time. I think I turn myself into a multi-potent state. I am very structured in my work; my life runs on Google Docs and people who know me also know that even if I do three things at the same time, I deliver what they want on time,” she says.
Not many women take up sports management as a full-time profession. Aisha explains why.
“My core industries, whether it’s mechanical engineering or sports management, do not have a lot of women. It’s not a desk job. If you are in sports, you are in the stadium under the scorching sun, where you have to walk around the pitch 500 times a day. It’s physically draining. Also, there’s no work-life balance — you might be on the pitch on all the special occasions in your life. These are the reasons many women do not want to continue in the industry.”
It was in 2015 when Aisha first heard of the FIFA Master course. The one-year programme provides an International Master in Management, Law, and Humanities of Sports organised by the International Centre for Sports Studies taught at De Montfort University (UK), SDA Bocconi School of Management (Italy), and the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland).
Crowdfunding for FIFA Master
Aisha was the only Indian woman among 30 people selected from a pool of over 700 global applications for this prestigious programme, along with a 50 percent scholarship.
“It’s very exciting because they train us in a way that opens doors for us. We will have a lot of field visits to the FIFA headquarters, IOC Committee, and Formula One headquarters, among others — a total of 80 field trips. Also, at the end of the course, FIFA selects three people for employment. This was the catalyst for me to apply,” she says.
After the merit scholarship, Aisha is now doing crowdfunding of around Rs 28 lakh to be able to join the course. She tried knocking on the doors of various organisations for funding but to no avail.
“I would have opted for a bank loan, but I have no collateral (property) to give. So, I decided to go the crowdfunding route,” she adds.
With the course starting in September, Aisha can use every help she can get.
When she announced on LinkedIn that she was crowdfunding her studies, she received 38,000 reactions in a week on her post.
“If all those 38,000 people had contributed just Rs 100, I would have reached my goal. But unfortunately, people don’t see it that way,” she says.
Despite everything, Aisha is confident. After all, this is one more battle to fight and win to make it a level playing field for every woman out there who aspires to turn her dreams into reality.
(More details on Aisha’s crowdfunding can be found here)