Due to a lack of match experience and competitions - both domestic and international - the country's national sport is set to face the toughest challenge in the event's 18th edition, beginning in Indonesia this month
Kabaddi is the only game that earned Bangladesh at least a medal in each of the seven editions since 1990. But due to a lack of match experience and competitions - both domestic and international - the country's national sport is set to face the toughest challenge in the event's 18th edition, beginning in Indonesia this month.
Since the men's kabaddi team won their last medal in 2006, the women's kabaddi side continued the trend with bronzes in the last two editions, but the countries they had beaten with ease in the years gone by have now improved significantly.
“It will be the toughest ever competition we are going to face,” said women's kabaddi team head coach Abdul Jalil to Dhaka Tribune before the team's afternoon practice session at Sultana Kamal Women's Sports Complex in Dhanmondi Tuesday.
The women's team have been undergoing residential camp since February 15 this year with the aim of recovering match fitness and overcoming dearth of competition, especially in the last two years.
Jalil added, “The number of participants has increased from five to nine this time around. We beat South Korea in 2010 and 2014 to reach the semi-finals, and won bronzes there. Since then, we have not played a single game in Asian level while South Korea made significant improvement. They finished runners-up in the last Asian Games Women's Kabaddi Championship in 2017 where we didn't even take part.”
The women's team beat Sri Lanka to finish third in their last international competition, the South Asian Games. It was held in India in February 2016.
Sri Lanka continued their participation in international events and improved their game since then but Jalil is hopeful of tackling the South Asian neighbour. But it wouldn't be as easy as it was before.
“There were no domestic tournaments since the SA Games, not even any practice opportunity in the last two years. The federation managed its own fund to start the camp in February while the Bangladesh Olympic Association is only bearing the expenditure since June 27. We tried our best to get the team into shape,” Jalil explained.
The team did not play any warm-up matches in recent times but as Jalil said, the federation tried to arrange a friendly in India, but only in vain.
The former national captain and current National Sports Council kabaddi coach continued: “We don't have any other women's kabaddi team in the country against whom we can play practice matches and as a result, we didn't get the chance to see where we stand. The international games are now played at a high level but from my long experience and our connection with the game, I'm still hopeful.”
Who are going to play
Only five players from the previous Asiad squad – Shahnaz Parvin, Shila Akter, Rupali Akter, Fatema Akter Poly and Sharmin Sultan Rima – kept their place in the current team.
Five new players joined the side at the 2016 SA Games while the trio of new faces – Khadiza Akter, Disha Moni Sarkar and Srabonti Mallik – are getting ready for their first international experience.
Jalil and his younger brother, Ziaur Rahman, also the assistant coach, was full of praise for the tall, young and strong raider Srabonti.
Assistant coaches Maleka Parvin and Mohammad Bajlur Rashid revealed interesting aspects of Srabonti, who is also a gold-medalist in the national athletics, and wrestling events as well.
The 12 players in the squad come from nine different districts – two each from Narail, Jamalpur and Panchagarh and one each from Kishoreganj, Munshiganj, Jessore, Satkhira, Faridpur and Rajshahi. Seven of them are currently employed at Ansar, four at Police and one at BJMC.
Captain Shahnaz Parvin Mallik has been representing the national women's team since 2005 and is now the oldest member in the Asiad squad. She guided Bangladesh to two bronzes in the last two editions but admitted the circumstances are different this time.
“Every other participating team have developed their game over time whereas there were no games for us in the past two years. It will be tougher this time but we are trying our best.”
Men's kabaddi team await revival
The downfall of the men's kabaddi team in the international arena came earlier than the women's kabaddi's inclusion in the 2010 Asian Games, despite the fact that Bangladesh were once regarded as one of the top two kabaddi nations, along with India. The year they won their last medal in 2006, they defeated Iran convincingly in the third-place deciding match.
Like India, Iran also invested heavily in the development of kabaddi and emerged as the runners-up in the last two editions while South Korea, Pakistan and Japan are among the bronze medalists who have shown improvement over time.
The men's kabaddi team were the first to begin their preparation in December last year, staying at the NSC hostel and training at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. Veteran kabaddi coach Subimal Chandra Das, who coached the women's team in the last two editions, is guiding the side.
“We played no tournament or practice matches in the last two years, but at the same time, this (six months) is the longest training camp before any tournament in the past. It's a shame that we didn't win medal the last two times but it's our national sport. It’s our responsibility to do our best in order to regain the glory of the past,” said Subimal.
The team camped for only three weeks before the Kabaddi World Cup, which was held in India in 2016. Bangladesh exited in the group stage. This was Bangladesh’s last international tournament.