Champions don’t deserve to stand at the back of the line
Bangladesh women's national team's tremendous victory in the SAFF Women's Championship and their subsequent homecoming has kept social media abuzz this past week. What was supposed to be a festive atmosphere quickly turned into a comedy of errors as the shortcomings of those who were supposed to organise the reception was laid bare.
It all started as soon as the team touched down in the airport. Instead of a raucous reception, the players were welcomed with an onslaught of unruly media personnel who crowded them at the airport, leading to a chaotic situation. In the pictures taken at the airport and later circulated throughout the media, we saw Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) officials and dignitaries at the front of the queue, with our footballing stars relegated to the back. Looking at the pictures and videos inundating social media, one might wonder if it was the BFF officials instead who won a major tournament.
Their much anticipated and spoken about trophy parade on an open-top bus through Dhaka wasn't without hiccups either. According to reports, some members of the team had money stolen from their luggage despite having them locked and secured. Midfielder Ritu Porna Chakma injured her head after a collision with a billboard – she ended up needing three stitches before she could make it to the press conference.
The press conference in the BFF House itself proved to be the most awkward part of the day.
As seen in pictures and through social media posts made by reporters who were present there, the champions were made to stand at the back as BFF officials and dignitaries, whose presence there was questionable in and of itself, took the spotlight. Golam Rabbani Choton, the coach and the architect behind our women's teams' success, was barely given a place at the far end, while captain Sabina Khatun shifted back-and-forth depending on who was being interviewed, even answering questions while standing at the back of the crowd while higher-ups sat in front.
In a live broadcast of the press conference, this strange exchange was clear for all to see. When the Youth Minister for Sports, Zahid Ahsan Russel, entered the stage, things turned even more awkward. Seeing the captain and coach standing, he offered to give up his seat to allow the stars to enter the spotlight. Unfortunately, he was told by board directors, including the president, and officers to remain seated.
For the girls who went through so much to bring glory to our nation, this lacklustre effort was an insult, where everyone, except the footballers, were falling over each other in an attempt to steal credit.
Unfortunately, this problem has been around in sports administration in our country for a long time now. With precious little success to share among themselves, officials wolf down to get credit for the exploits of athletes on the field. This negatively impacts the young players, as they might become disillusioned from performing altogether. Especially when their luggage gets robbed or their captain isn't given a seat at her own press conference.
Fortunately for the Bangladesh women's nation team, time is still on their side, and a few simple steps can set them towards an even brighter future. These women overcame a lot of social stigma to achieve their collective dreams, and paying them back with better infrastructure is the least BFF can do.
The team still trains on substandard pitches, and their accommodations and pay is still low. Its high-time BFF improved training facilities, whilst bringing in better foreign coaches to help the footballers hone their talents and skills. To achieve that, roping in a big sponsorship deal is crucial. On the back of the SAFF Women's Championship win, fans and the footballers alike can genuinely hope that a big conglomerate comes forward to give them a desperately-needed financial boost.
To allow our players to maximise their potential, a domestic football calendar must be designed and adhered to, with a professional women's football league being arranged every season. This will also allow sponsors to make substantial investments, helping achieve equal pay with their male counterparts.
In the future, it can also help clubs establish dedicated women's football academies, whose job will be to keep the talent pipeline flowing by scouting the best talents. Having a functional pipeline can ensure our women's team's success in the long-term future.
As for the national team, they show enormous potential. We have only but seen a small part of it in the recently-concluded SAFF Women's Championships. It's imperative that BFF arranges friendlies against teams higher up in the rankings. Playing against technically superior and tactically diverse opponents, our women's team can hone their skills even more.
It can also help them identify their tactical weaknesses, giving them a chance to work on them and improve in the future. If all this is ensured, Bangladesh women's national team can scale incredible heights – perhaps even realising our national dream of seeing the green-and-red fly high in the FIFA World Cup.
1. The Daily Star. 22 September 2022. Homecoming of Champions.
2. The Daily Star. 22 September 2022. Sanjida and Co discover money stolen from their luggage.
Inqiad is a long suffering Manchester United fan and a self-proclaimed Targaryen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org