By Tim Grainey
Last week the Roundup talked to two WPS veteran players: defender/midfielder Joanna Lohman and forward Lianne Sanderson, both of whom played for the Philadelphia Independence in WPS last season. Lohman won a W-League title with Washington Freedom in 2007 and Sanderson is a former English international.
Like many other professionals who have been cast adrift by WPS first cancelling the 2012 season and then announcing last month that they are folding for good, they want to continue their soccer careers. They played in Spain this winter for RCD Espanyol and have signed to play with D.C. United in the W-League this summer.
The two have shown that a career in soccer for women is not limited to playing or coaching however, having developed a program through their JoLi Academy that can impact the lives of girls in developing countries. As part of their soccer training work, Lohman and Sanderson spent a month in rural India this past January training young girls. They paired with a NGO (non-governmental organization) Yuwa (Youth in Hindi) which was founded in 2009 by Franz Gastler, a Harvard graduate.
Yuwa’s mission is to help girls improve their quality of life by realizing their potential. The program uses sports as a platform for social development in poor remote locales of India. Yuwa started with 15 girls playing soccer in one village but has since expanded to over 250 players in 10 villages. Lohman and Sanderson worked with Yuwa in Jharkhand in Eastern India, where women are frequently targets of exploitation and where over 30,000 women a year are abducted by human traffickers. Sanderson explained: “We work with groups that have already built a foundation; we are supplementing their excellent programs and bring our expertise which is obviously in the women’s game.”
Jharkhand’s residents have limited water supplies, electricity and food sources; people can spend all their lives within a few miles of their village. It is routine to even see women carrying water buckets on their heads from communal reservoirs. Rural India has very traditional perceptions about the roles of women in society, which does not include careers or sports.
Joanna Lohman explained: “We want to give these girls opportunities beyond what they have, which are very few and far between. When you are born as a woman in India your life is pretty much set for you, especially in the poorer areas. You have your daily responsibilities and obligations towards your family. You’re married off at 13 or 14 years old and you go to school but it’s more of an arbitrary school day; you don’t really learn that much but you do it because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Then you’re married off and you have kids and again you have your family obligations.”
Their players had great sacrifices just to go to school; they would walk two hours each way, so Lohman and Sanderson had to arrange soccer practice at 5 am and then again once the girls returned home, playing until dark.
Lianne Sanderson explained that Franz Gastler took them to one home to meet with the parents of a 13 year old girl who was soon to be married, but after realizing that there were other life options for their daughter, the parents decided against the marriage. The two educated, successful young women from the West discussed their schooling, soccer careers and other aspirations, and in the process it opened up a world of possibilities to both their academy participants and their parents. Lohman said: “We’re trying to take their girls and give them more opportunities than what they’re offered or what society really expects of them.”
Another unique aspect of the JoLi Academy experience is that they reached out to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), which is U.S. Soccer’s equivalent as the governing body for the sport in the country. The national team players came to Jharkhand for five days, for what Lohman described as a very powerful partnership on all levels: “The national team girls get inspiration from the village girls’ players because they see what they go through each and every day just to play soccer, and the happiness they get from it. The girls from Yuwa are inspired by seeing role models; players who are on the national team, play internationally and on the world stage.”
Sanderson admitted that they were particularly pleased that the federation selected three of the Yuwa players to join their national team program. Lohman felt that their academy program in Jharkhand allowed the AIFF to expand their reach to identify more players in poorer, remote areas, where most of the best players are: “There is an assumption within Indian society that you cannot play sports and study at the same time. If you come from a family of money, the parents do not encourage their kids to participate in sport because they think it will distract from their studies, so the best players come from the most rural of villages. At the same time it’s difficult for the Indian soccer federation to have such a far outreach that they get into the most remote villages to identify the players so it was great that our academy brought the federation into a rural village where some of the best player are located….India is so huge that you would think that would be a great opportunity for a national team because there are so many people to choose from, but at the same time too many options can be paralyzing, [particularly] when each player has to travel so far to each event because the country is so big in terms of its landscape.”
The federation compensates with national team camps that are about three months in length. The players receive three meals a day, which many times are nutritionally superior to what they receive at home. Lohman and Sanderson however clearly saw a definite drawback to the camps: “Unless a team is in residency [which the United States and Canada have done in the past prior to a World Cup or Olympic Games], you don’t hear of that very often; therefore you are pulling the young girls [as young as the U-13 age group] out of school, out of their educational system, to come play for the national team and unfortunately they have yet to figure out how to incorporate schooling at the same time.”
Lohman and Sanderson are committed to further programs with Yuwa and the AIFF but they see their work in India as much more than just soccer training. Lianne Sanderson said: “We don’t just want to go there, teach them how to dribble a soccer ball and then just leave. We want to make a lasting impact; we gave them journals to document what they learn and be an outlet for their thoughts; that’s powerful.”
Sanderson added that their academy was not just about soccer, but also stressed education and nutrition. Joanna Lohman added: “We don’t want to parachute into a country and then parachute out without having any sustainability in our projects, so it’s important we work with local organizations that have their feet on the ground there, that get their hands dirty in the countries that need it the most….A lot of the improvement that you’ll see in Indian women’s football will come from Yuwa and groups that are really invested in the development of young women as a whole and not just as soccer players.”
They would also like to see more dedicated resources for the women’s game (men’s soccer has long struggled as well in a country where cricket is the dominant sport) and more female coaches, who can act as role models for young women.
Next January, Sanderson and Lohman plan to return to Jharkhand and host a tournament for the Yuwa girls and teams from other regions in India, possibly with a team from a similar type of NGO based in Nepal and another AIFF representative side. They have also held discussions with groups in other countries about expanding their academy efforts but they are cautious, “about spreading themselves too thin.” They also want to work with soccer federations, “that are most progressive in their treatment of women and are dedicated to growing the women’s game in their country.” JoLi Academy is currently a Limited Liability Company but they hope to establish a JoLi Foundation within the next year that would allow them to apply for government grants.
Lianne Sanderson and Joanna Lohman are two experienced professional players who are showing that well-run sports programs can make a difference in young women’s lives in countries where females are expected to follow traditional paths. Sanderson and Lohman are soccer pioneers and leaders, not just interested in furthering their own careers, but also in improving the sport on a global basis. Their passion and dedication present role models for the girls in India and for young women at home, inspiring them to make a difference. Their JoLi Academy is based on soccer but has much larger social implications.
Note: The AIFF is starting to see results from their reorganization of the Women’s National Team over the past two years, after lying dormant with no games at all in 2008 and 2009. In March of 2011, India defeated Bangladesh in the first round of AFC qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics but fell in the second round to Uzbekistan 2-6 on aggregate. India won two of three exhibitions matches last fall in Bahrain. They are expected to participate in qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup in Canada, but strong teams in Northeast Asia (Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China) plus Australia make it extremely difficult for any Southeast or Mideast Asia side to qualify, despite the increase in Asia’s spots in Canada to five (up from three in 2011).
Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to Soccer365. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released earlier this month. Get your copy today.
Manchester City will try and win back the Premier League title with this new soccer jersey from Nike!
The hoop soccer jersey is classic and cool. The USA hooped jersey is perfect for every fan. Get in the Gear.
Neymar's move from Santos to Barcelona is no doubt the biggest summer transfer.
The adidas Nitrocharge is the most talked about new cleat in years. It was released on May 15 and will take your pitch by storm.
Germany is one of the top teams ever and they will play the US on Sunday.
England will debut their new away jersey against Brazil at the Maracana Stadium on Sunday. Get in the Gear
Barcelona will wear this new home soccer jersey next season. They also have a new away jersey. Get them both.
The USA will wear their blue away jersey against Jamaica in their World Cup qualifier on Friday night.
Support the USA national team with an official 2013 Centennial soccer jersey from Nike. Its Official.
Jamaica is in need of a win against the U.S. Get the jersey of the Reggae Boyz.