A new history has been made in the sports field of Bangladesh. Bangladesh Tigers beat Nepal 3-1 to set a new record in SAFF Championship. South Asia’s World Cup-famous SAFF tournament has got a new champion. India was the champion in all five tournaments before this. Bangladesh defeated India 3-0 in the group stage and advanced to the semi-finals. Bangladesh was the worthy claimant of the title. Bangladesh scored 23 goals from the group stage to the final, on the contrary, they had to digest only one goal in the final. Who will stop such an overwhelming team?
Earlier in December last year, Bangladesh won the title by defeating India 1-0 in the final of the Women’s SAFF Under-19 Football Championship at the Kamalapur Stadium in Dhaka. At that time, Bangladesh became the undefeated champion by showing dominance in the entire tournament. In 2003, the Bangladesh men’s team won the last SAFF Games. After 19 long years, Bangladesh women’s team became the undefeated champion. Despite the success of the age group, the national women’s team had zero success. Runner-up to India in the finals in 2016 was the highest achievement.
Football was once a popular sport in Bangladesh. Football was played in every place of the village. There was extra frenzy in the games of Dhaka clubs. No matter if Abahani and Mohammedan played, the whole stadium would have been packed with spectators. Bangladesh football has shown dominance in various tournaments including SAFF Championship. It was all about men’s football. The current performance of Bangladesh football is very disappointing. But Bangladesh women’s football team is showing a new light of hope. Not only the national team, the U-15, U-16, U-18 and U-19 age groups have been consistently showing success. As a result, they have won eight titles in age-group tournaments in the last eight years.
Bangladesh women’s football is only two decades old. The journey began in 2002 with the West Bengal Women’s Football Team’s tour of Bangladesh. During the BNP-Jamaat coalition government, girls’ football could not progress as much due to threats from fundamentalists. The awakening of women’s football in Bangladesh began in 2011 when the Bangmata Fazilatunnecha Girls’ Primary School Football Tournament started. Today’s women’s team stars Maria Manda, Tahura, Monika, Sanjida, Marzia, Moushumi, Shamsunnahar, Maksuda and most of them have come up by playing Bangmata football.
Today, the women’s football team of Bangladesh has become the center of interest of all the people of Bangladesh due to its remarkable success at home and abroad. For so long, girls’ football could not progress due to family and social barriers, lack of financial security. But slowly overcoming all the obstacles, Bangladesh women’s football team is opening a new horizon.
Sports-oriented Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already invited women football stars to the Ganabhaban several times and given various awards including financial incentives. By this new generation girls are encouraged to play football. Most women football players come from lower middle class families. As Maria Manda of Kalsunder said, ‘We used to play football for fun. If the prime minister had not started primary school football in his mother’s name, we would not have come this far.’ The head coach of the women’s football team, Golam Rabbani Choton, also praised the Prime Minister’s contribution to the transformation of girls. He said, ‘Prime Minister has given an opportunity to select talent by starting girls’ games at the primary school level. After that, when the success came again, he called the girls and gave them incentives. After becoming the champion again, the Prime Minister called and inquired. Once when I was stranded in Nepal due to an earthquake, they sent a helicopter to bring the girls back. What could be a greater inspiration than that? Bangabandhu’s daughter made a big contribution to changing the family by playing girls’ football.
Kalsundar village of Dhobaura Upazila of Mymensingh is known to all over Bangladesh. But a few days ago no one knew this village. The village is known all over the country because of women’s football. In 2016, teachers misbehaved with female students for playing, even threatening to expel them from the school by calling parents. Today, those students are not only the pride of the teachers, but also the pride of the whole country. To their credit, the village of Kalsunder changed in an instant.
Begum Rokeya said, ‘The emancipation of the motherland is impossible until the girls wake up.’ Women of Bangladesh are moving forward. And Bangladesh is moving forward because women are moving forward in every field. Women have taken themselves to unique heights in every sphere of society or state. Women are slowly progressing towards success in sports. The success of today’s female footballers is the result of that streak. Before the final, Sanjida Akhtar, one of the team members, posted a status on her Facebook that resonated with millions of people in Bangladesh. He said, ‘In the final, we will not be fighting in the role of a footballer, there will be a team of 11 fighters on the field, many of whom have come so far after losing their father, taking the last possessions of their mother, selling their sister’s ornaments, many of them being the only source of income for the family. We are used to fighting the battle of life. Will fight till the last minute for supremacy in South Asia. Victory and defeat are in the hands of God. But have faith, we will not make any mistakes in our efforts, InshAllah.’ Sanjidara has spoken. This victory is the victory of women’s awakening, this is the victory of brave warriors, the whole of Bangladesh. Congratulations Red Tigers.
Author: Former student leader and member, Sampriti Bangladesh.