Let it be the national side or different age level teams, the Bangladesh women have brought laurels for the country in the last couple of years with their latest title winning success coming in the recently concluded Saff U-15 Championship.
of Dhaka Tribune
has tried to find out the reasons as to how the Bangladesh girls have done so well in recent years. Below is the first part of the two-segment story on women’s football in Bangladesh.
Increase in practice opportunities along with the introduction of women's school football in the remotest parts of the country have played the foundational role, while a platform for camping and playing together for a long time are the key factors behind the young Bangladesh girls' eye-catching performances and rare achievements in recent times. Even the Fifa authorities have been discussing Bangladesh's rise as "exemplary" and “role models” for the development of women's football in the world.
Even five to six years ago all kinds of national women's football was limited to the ethnic groups of Chittagong Hill Tracts and girls hailing from the southwestern corner of the country. After the government-funded primary school tournaments spread all over the country, the girls from Mymensingh, Tangail, Rangpur, Thakurgaon, Kushtia, Rajshahi, Sirajganj, Gazipur, Sylhet and Cox's Bazaar started contributing to different national youth teams, especially the ones which rose from the hillocks of Mymensingh.
The country's football regulatory body, along with a group of dedicated local coaches and organisers managed to cash in on the government's mega project by picking up the best talents for national youth team which, within a couple of years, dominated the national side squad as well.
These girls emerged as south Asian champion after proving themselves among Asia's top eight sides of their age. The concerned sports authorities believe these young girls have all the potential to be among Asia's best in the senior level had they been provided advanced fitness training, proper academy facilities, along with more support from the government.
Talks are ongoing to allocate a small portion of BKSP, the country's sole national sports institute, for the women's football team which might be a better arrangement for the time being compared to their ongoing camp at the dormitory of BFF House. But for the long run, a proper academy for only football purpose still remains a “dream” to the country's football governing body due to its huge expenses and maintenance.
Admitting their financial limitation against providing the best possible academy facility to the women's team, BFF’s women's wing committee chairman Mahfuza Akter Kiron recalled the situation of women's football from the years 2008-2012, the years when she was the deputy chairman of the same committee. She told Dhaka Tribune, "The situation of women's football was quite usual till 2011-12. Women's football was limited to only a few districts," Kiron told Dhaka Tribune Tuesday, adding, "We got the benefits from the Bangamata School Football Tournament. It created awareness of women's football across the country and we cashed in on it. We select the best girls and ensure them continuous training. "
Within a year after its men's version began, the Bangamata Begum Fazilatunnesa Mujib Gold Cup Primary School Football Tournament, organised by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, started its journey in 2011. The tournament involves more than a million young female footballers from around 64,000 schools every year. The BFF has been exclusively nurturing 39 young booters, who formed different national women's teams in recent times, and as many as 38 of them hail from one of the largest women's football events in the world.
Women's team head coach Golam Rabbani Choton has been closely guiding the women's sides since 2009, a year before the national women's team tasted their first international football experience during the South Asian Games in 2010, which came three decades after their male counterpart. He informed that a total of 36 women footballers played between 2009 and 2011 and all of them came from only five districts - Rangamati, Khagrachari, Satkhira, Jessore and Narayanganj.
The regular squad was however, dominated mostly by the girls coming from the ethnic minorities of Chittagong Hill Tracts, but one of the exceptions was Sabina Khatun from Satkhira. Sabina, the national and domestic top-scorer, is still captaining the national women's team. She is also among the four-member coaching staff of the women's youth team after completing the first part of the B License coaching course last year.
"When I started playing, women’s football also began its journey. There was a lack of events and training facilities. Women's football activities started to increase after 2011. The current girls have been training long-term, played a lot of matches together and bonded well, which made football easier for them," Sabina told Dhaka Tribune Tuesday.
There were some passionate coaches-cum-organisers like Akbar Ali from Satkhira, Mosleh Uddin Khandakar, popularly known as Bidyut Chacha, from Narayanganj and Emdadul Haq Shachchu from Jessore who helped the girls of their respective areas to break the social taboo and guided them all the way to Dhaka. Sabina, along with a couple of youth national players, were taught football lessons by Akbar, whose daughters Mukta and Rikta featured in the youth national team till 2012. Akbar is still active in his region.
The duration of practice sessions varies but even playing bare-footed, every participating school had to form a U-11/12 women's football team, which saw an increase in activities of local coaches in different districts. The stats suggest that a notable number of coaches outside the capital completed their AFC C License course in the last two years. Local coaches like Mymensingh's Mofiz Uddin, Tangail's Golam Raihan Papon and Rangpur's Milon Khan managed to pick up the players who are now the driving force of the national team.
The ethnic minorities of the country have made a special contribution to the country's women's football. Being born and raised up in the hilly areas made them free, athletic and hard working. Bangladesh women's team captain Sabina admitted that when the ethnic girls first joined the camp they were already well-built and fitter. Players like Aungmra Ching Marma and Nubai Ching Marma from Khagrachari and Trishna Chakma and Suinu Pru Marma from Rangamati were the ones who dominated national women's football until 2014-15.
After women's school football reached every corner of the country and during the Plan Bangladesh U-15 Women's Football Tournament in 2013, girls around the Garo Hills of Mymensingh and Madhupur Tract, riding on their school football team, caught special attention of the scouting coaches of the football federation. Along with the Bengali girls, the ethnic girls living on these distant regions started to show their worth at national level together.
Kalsindur High School and College, situated at the Dhobaura upazila of Mymensingh, produced some of the best talents of Bangladesh. Mofiz, popularly known as Mofiz sir, guided his school to a hat-trick of championship titles in the school football tournament. Currently there are 11 players from that region in the national youth teams and they have all played pivotal roles in the international successes in the last four years, like goalkeeper Mahmuda Akter, defender Shamsunnahar, midfielder Maria Manda and versatile forward Sanjida Akter.
Maria came from a 30-house Garo community in Mandirgona village beside Nitai river in Kalsindur Union. She captained different youth teams, the latest being in the Saff U-15 Championship, and has been a vital force in the heart of midfield, along with Monika Chakma from Rangamati.
"Mofiz sir formed a school team around a month before the Bangamata school tournament. This is where we first played football. We used to practise every day. Everything started to change after we won the title. It made the job easier for us to continue playing the game," Maria told Dhaka Tribune Wednesday.
Gradually, the other regions of the country started to share Mymensingh's dominance in women's football. Choton told Dhaka Tribune, "The girls coming from elsewhere have no less contribution than Kalsindur. Srimoti Krishna Rani Sarkar from Tangail, Nila (Nilufa Yeasmin) from Kushtia, Ishrat Jahan Mousumi and Sirat Jahan Shopna from Rangpur are all doing well."
Among the 39 girls in the long-term camp, there are 11 players from Mymensingh, eight from Rangpur, four from Satkhira, three each from Thakurgaon and Khagrachari, two each from Rangamati, Tangail, Kushtia and one each from Rajshahi, Sylhet and Cox's Bazar.
In recent times, there is a young group of Santal girls from Thakurgaon who started garnering attention. Thakurgaon became runners-up in last year's U-14 National Women’s Championship where eight girls from Santal families hinted of a promising future.
Despite comprising only 2% of the total population, the girls from ethnic minorities have always played key roles in women's football. When the phenomena was presented to Jobaida Nasreen Kona, associate professor of Anthropology department of University of Dhaka, she explained to Dhaka Tribune, "The ethnic minorities living in matriarchal societies enable the girls to be exposed to a lifestyle that makes them confident and hard working and at the same time, helps them achieve a level of fitness which sets them apart from the girls coming from the patriarchal societies."
There might also be a geographical factor. An Indian youth women's team visited Dhaka last month for the Saff U-15 Championship. Their head coach Maymol Rockey, who has been involved in Indian women's football for quite a long time, informed that the girls from Manipur and Odisha states have always formed and controlled the Indian women's team. Both the states are located in the eastern part of India and in between these two states lie Bangladesh. During the amazing journey in the last three years, Bangladesh girls managed to beat almost all the Asian countries situated to their west, including India four times, but failed to beat most of the teams of the east like Japan, South Korea, North Korea, China and Thailand. These eastern countries also dominate Asian and the world's women's football.