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hivani Laddha looks set for big things. With four years’ experience in the football industry in her native India, and soon to complete a prestigious MBA at Liverpool University, she’s a young Women in Football member we can expect to hear much more about in the future.

In fact, it’s through her connection to WIF that Shivani was enabled to study for that masters degree in Football Industries. Course leaders at Liverpool spotted her potential and offered her a place, but she needed financial support to commit a year of her life to the course. As a Women in Football member Shivani was able to secure scholarship funding made available through WIF’s #WhatIf initiative (a forerunner to the current #GetOnside campaign).

Once the funding was in place, she never looked back.

“Opportunities like the Women in Football scholarship help women around the world overcome unwritten societal and personal barriers to dream big,” she says. “Coming from a society where women to this day are told what to do, what to wear and how to behave, I would have not considered moving to the UK had there been no scholarship attraction like the UoL Women in Football scholarship.”

Other than the English weather – ” I miss wearing my summer clothes all year long!” – Shivani has enjoyed life in the UK so far, and the MBA has proved a positive experience. She says: “The lecturers are industry experts, and my colleagues come from more than 15 nationalities, which is crazy. We all come from different backgrounds and cultures, carrying unique work experiences. The engagement levels are very rich, and I wouldn’t have been able to experience this back home.”

Creativity and enthusiasm
‘Unique work experiences’ is putting it mildly in Shivani’s case. Her time with the Indian Super League (ISL) involved an amazing breadth of responsibilities – from pre-match checks of the goal nets and playing kit to managing key partnerships with sponsors, governing bodies, clubs and the Asian Football Confederation. “In hindsight I really don’t know how that happened,” she says. “I just went with the flow!”

Shivani’s involvement with sport dates right back to childhood. Encouraged by her fitness-conscious family, she started to participate in a range of sports from the age of just 5, eventually becoming a keen basketball player. So when it came to working life, why the switch to football?

“I want to work in an industry that stretches my creativity and enthusiasm levels,” she says. “My experience in the ISL got me curious about the football business, especially around the corporate partnerships, media rights and the humungous fan following. Football is the world’s biggest sport – and I want to know why!”

And what makes opportunities like the Liverpool scholarship so important? “I find it appalling that women still have to prove their right to work. Nobody asks men the question of why only men should work. Football is the world’s biggest sport and the focal point for any global change in the sports industry.

“While it has traditionally been male-dominated both on and off the field, football has witnessed a paradigm shift towards diversity and inclusion over the past decade. Women in boardrooms and on the field can bring unique perspectives to the sport in ways that men simply cannot.”

Recently Shivani received more support through Women in Football when she was selected for an author mentoring session made available by publisher Floodlit Dreams as part of the #GetOnside campaign.

The session was tied in with the launch in November 2021 of the anthology Football, She Wrote and linked her with football journalist Alison Bender, whose work appears in the book. “It was great to chat with Alison – she was warm and welcoming,” Shivani recalls. It proved useful for her to share her struggles with writing and receive advice on getting into the industry.

Shivani with staff and other students from the Liverpool MBA programme

Shivani with staff and other students on the Liverpool MBA programme

Support from other women is important to Shivani. While working for the ISL, she says, “I did have great mentors who used to help me out but all of them were men and at times I feel like yes, they are very understanding, and they give you the right guidance, but had there been a female mentoring me I think I would have connected to the mentor more strongly.

“Then when I moved to the UK, when I came to Liverpool, seeing the WIF members as well as the guest speakers, it was just mind-blowing. All of them are so helpful and they will mentor you, they will guide you, they will take time out for you. Having those sisterships and friendships is really, really nice to experience, because I did not have that as much back in India but over here it’s a different world altogether.”

Before coming to the UK, Shivani was one of many WIF members who benefited from the introduction of online events when the Covid-19 pandemic began. “I did attend many virtual events and I was surprised – OK, this actually happens? Women can get together and share expertise, share skills, share knowledge with each other. I had never experienced that before.”

As well as access to networking events, mentoring and scholarship funding, Shivani has found value in the sense of community she feels as a Women in Football member.

She says: “I got to meet so many people, and it’s not necessarily that I wanted to get work out of them, but just to follow them, get inspired by them and talk to them. It just helped me find friendships, and I did not feel like an outsider, coming from India, having a different skin colour or having a different accent. Nobody bothered me with that – I was just taken as who I am.”

Having experienced them powerfully for herself, Shivani admits that she “cannot stop advocating the benefits” of WIF membership. “The network outreach of WIF is unimaginable and its 360-degree inclusivity will help anyone find solace despite their background, gender, or age.”

Looking ahead
Shivani’s studies and experience seem to set her in good stead for the rest of her career, then – but where that will be and what form it will take remain to be seen. I do have a plan, but plans keep changing,” she admits. “I want to stay here in the UK – I do have a two-year work visa so I’m going to stay here, and I want to gain experience in women’s sports.

“I am really passionate about it and after coming here I did realise that yes, people are taking the business side of women’s sports very seriously now, and we don’t have that matured ecosystem in India yet. So I am keen on gaining that exposure through the course and through the people I meet in the UK.”

In the short term you can get to know her better as one of the three WIF members featured in the #GetOnside film set to be launched later in February. Looking further ahead, keep your eyes open and don’t be surprised to see Shivani Laddha again as a rising star of the football industry – wherever in

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