A victory for the ages
As the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) tried to warm up to the footsteps of USA and Europe by laboriously introducing football among women in 2004, a major roadblock came in the form of fundamentalists. There were violent protests to stop women from playing football or sport for that matter. That tournament, however, eventually took place, amid heavy police security, after women's organisations came out on the streets and some brave football officials remained steadfast.
It is quite remarkable to think that only twelve years later the game has brought about one of the most glorious moments of Bangladesh's sporting history as the Bangladesh under-16 women's were placed among the eight best Asian teams. The game had stuttered quite a few times in those 12 intervening years, but there were sure signs of progress. Those little steps -- the nationwide staging of Bangamata Gold Cup, the women's national team players going for overseas stints, and back-to-back AFC U-14 Zonal Women's Championship titles -- culminated at the Big Bowl last night. Bangladesh surely has turned a corner.
Coach Golam Rabbani Choton, who has overseen three SAFF Women's Championship campaigns and two South Asian (SA) Games campaigns apart from successfully guiding the under-14 side to back-to-back successes over the last five years, saw the success coming.
“It is a result of dedication of some of the officials associated with women's football,” the revered coach said after his team's win over Taipei. “It is also a result of continuation of strategy and purpose and grooming a specific bunch year after year.”
Choton believes that he had made this bunch of footballers -- most of whom were part of the victorious under-14 teams -- battle-hardened by thrusting them amongst the big girls. “When I took nine of these young girls to the SA Games earlier this year, I faced a lot of criticism. I felt that we would finish third in any case, so why not give these talented girls the exposure they needed. We are reaping the rewards of that experience.”
The irony is that the incredible success of women's football is coming at a time when the privileged men's football is hitting a new nadir in every game the men's national team plays. Just the other day, the men's team slumped to a 5-0 drubbing against Maldives -- their biggest defeat to a South Asian opponent. So when Bangladesh under-16 women's team's skipper Krishna Rani Sarker was asked to comment about the contrasting fortunes, she came up with a candid reply and an incredulous look: “Men are ahead in everything -- everything including facilities. Still they are losing by 5-6 goals!”
Krishna or Choton for that matter were certainly not happy to see the men's team lose like that. But they were only pleading inside that they got some of the privileges so they could further ride the wave of success because they have earned the right to do so. And they know they would need all the support from the game's governing body and other stakeholders to make their presence felt in China come September 2017.