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Bend it Like Bhuta: Indian-Origin USA Footballer Tackling Stereotypes & Inspiring ‘Girls With Goals'

“In countries like India, girls have never been exposed to other females playing at a high level,” history-making footballer Mia Bhuta tells the WSA. “To give them that opportunity to dream big and show they can achieve anything, is what means the most to me.”

Image @miabhuta (Insta)

11 October 2022, a date now forever etched into not only Mia Bhuta’s mind, but also the analogues of her nation and sport.

It marked the start of the Women’s U17 FIFA World Cup, but also a goalscoring major event international debut for the midfielder, whose spectacular curling effort in the closing stages gave the USA an astounding 8-0 victory over hosts, India.

Of perhaps even greater significance; it was also the first time a player of Indian heritage, female or male, represented America at any level in a football World Cup.

“Obviously, every day I want to be the best, I want my team to win and of course scoring was an incredible feeling, but overall, it’s so much bigger than just winning one game,” she says.

“Being able to break that barrier and inspire the next generation to continue to do the same is something that will always be super rewarding to me.”

Mia may have been born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in north America, but she was raised on stories about India from her father, Vyom; a once promising tennis player who left his homeland for the USA in pursuit of greater opportunities at the age of 16.

She possesses his competitive instinct and natural ‘fight’ for self-improvement.

Mia, who also plays for Stanford University Cardinal’s women’s soccer team, is acutely aware of the cultural significance of her presence on the national team and how much of an impact her performances can have both on and off the field of play.

It has become a mission dubbed ‘Bend it like Bhuta’.

It is a play on the iconic 2002 movie Bend it like Beckham’ which followed the story of Jess, a young English player of Indian heritage trying to make an impact in the women’s game against the background of cultural challenges and stereotypes in Britain.

Growing up in the USA, with a progressive father and American native mother, Mia was sheltered from many of those issues which have traditionally prevented females, with either direct or indirect family ties to certain South Asian countries, from pursuing careers in sport.

Times are changing though and during last year’s World Cup Mia, as well as several of her team-mates, took part in a ‘Kick off the Dream’ initiative which saw them meet, greet and award kit to young Indian girls who aspire to be elite footballers themselves.

“Being able to experience that first-hand, meet the actual girls and see their faces just reminded me of how and why I'm playing,” says Mia with a smile. “It's always for something bigger.

“India has so much potential, there’s so much talent there, but the world needs to believe in young girls, to invest in them and give them the opportunities to succeed.”

The power of role-models in women's sport

Mia, who “fell in love with the game” from the moment she “first touched a football” at the age of three, admits she was “so fortunate” to have access to “incredible” training opportunities from a young age, while growing up in the USA.

Argentinian World Cup winner Lionel Messi is her main idol, but she insists that having several strong female role models was important to her development too.

“There are so many I’ve watched like Julie Ertz, who plays in the same position as me and I’ve always looked up to,” states Mia.

“It’s the same with Rose Lavelle, Megan Rapinoe, Lindsay Horan, and Carli Lloyd. In the USA we have such technical players, but also strong leaders that girls all around the world can look up to.

She continues; “I think having those role models is a really great thing.”

FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup reflections

Image @miabhuta (Insta)

Like millions around the globe Mia was transfixed by the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup in Oceania which was not only the most well-attended and popular tournaments of its kind in history, but also one of the most unpredictable.

Defending champions and pre-event favourites the USA suffered a surprise early elimination at the hands of Sweden, while two-time winners Germany failed to reach the knock-out stages.

Nigeria and Jamaica secured many new fans en-route to the round of 16, while Japan and co-hosts Australia also made a significant impact in the event, which was won by Spain.

They defeated England in front of a sell-out 75,784 crowd in Sydney, while a total of almost two million fans attended the World Cup – up by more than 600,000 from the previous edition in France in 2019.

“Obviously I want the US (United States) to win, but I think that this (a new winner) is honestly a good thing,” Mia tells the WSA.

“We're seeing other countries reach the same level because they now have access to the right equipment and have more opportunities, which his exactly what we want.

“It really was so much fun to watch the World Cup because of all the different styles of play from all the different countries and seeing so many fans as well as people around the world watching, getting involved in the games and even talking about the controversy online.

“Yeah, that side can be quite annoying, but it shows people care and that’s exactly what you want!”

Women believe, now we need to be backed

Image @miabhuta (Insta)

Mia has previously spoken about potentially opting against turning professional once her college career is complete and instead focusing on education.

Now though, she is not ruling out pursing a longer-term future in the sport after teaming up with leading global sports brand adidas.

“Being with them is not really just about me as an athlete, but it's about expanding my impact through both of our audiences and they really support my initiatives,” she reveals.

“Women in our society, we're at the point where we believe in ourselves, but now we just need the people around us to believe in us too.

“So that means giving girls opportunities, advocating for them, allowing them to see what's possible through our stories and empowering girls to follow their dreams.

“I want to encourage people to push the boundaries of human potential, that’s my main message and it’s really exciting to have adidas supporting that.

“The impact that we're able to have through sport, not just in India, but around the world is huge and I think it really just made me appreciate how important playing this game is.”

Leaving a lasting legacy

On the pitch, Mia has some sizeable targets too for the coming years.

“I want to keep working hard to achieve the small short-term goals I've set, but looking longer-term, I hope to be playing with the US national team, winning the World Cup, the Olympics and continuing to use my platform to inspire others.

“The way I can do that might change over the next few years, but in the end, I know that what I want to do is really just make a difference in the world.”

Image @miabhuta (Insta)


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