It is merely a dream for many of us, to be able to wear our national emblem proudly on our chests in a foreign land, to sing our national anthem wearing our hearts on our sleeves, and represent our nation with our talents and skills.
12 girls, very recently, have gotten that opportunity. These 12 girls, who make up our National Women's Basketball team, were a part of the first ever South Asian Basketball Tournament for Women. Even though they have previously played against other international teams, this was the first time they played for the country on a platform so large.
Formed in 2009, the team has gone through many a transformation. The current team includes Zayeema Sarwar, Ridwana Fairuz, Maswiyat Iftekhar, Gulnahar Mahbub Monika, Ashreen Mridha, Lami Khandkar, Natasha Kalam (Captain), Lamia Hafiz (Vice Captain), Raysa Habib, Naomi Hossain, Tasfia Fairuz and Rayma Habib.
Their first international game was against a team representing Tripura, India, who had come to Dhaka for a 3-match series. With six months of hard work and training, our Bengal Tigresses won their first series.
On March 2016, the team was flown to Nepal for their biggest tournament away from home- the South Asian Basketball Tournament for Women.
“All the years of hard work and everything we have been taught- we delivered on the court for Bangladesh. Every rebound, every Monica, Noakhali, Jhalmuri and Mridha play (that's what we call our formations. They're easier to remember this way!) -- we made it work even when it didn't. We laughed, we cried, but most of all, we enjoyed every second of that 2 hour game we played everyday” says Ashreen Mridha, shooting guard for the team.
More than just making it big on the court, the team of such young, active and spirited girls learned more than they had hoped for through this tournament. “It obviously brought more unity amongst all of us. We were trained together as a team and learned to motivate each other on and off the court in every which way,” says Lamia Hafiz, Vice Captian, playing power forward and centre.
The tournament consisted of teams from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and of course, Bangladesh. With India and Pakistan pulling out of the competition, Sri Lanka came out on top as the strongest team in the tournament, and host nation Nepal was next in the ranks. Our girls played against every team. Unfortunately, they flew back to Dhaka with no wins in their pockets, but what they did bring back was a world of experience. “We learned more about ourselves as individuals, and as a team. Playing against professional teams really showed us what our weaknesses are,” says Hafiz.
March 2016 was a pivotal moment for Women's Basketball in Bangladesh and this particularly passionate group of girls. “We always saw the federation send our men's team to international tournaments, but not the women's team. We knew we needed more experience to play against strong teams, but we needed someplace to start. This was it,” says Mridha.
In a patriarchal society such as ours, women seldom get the chance to showcase such sporting talent. When they do, the opportunities themselves are filled with loopholes. “It can be quite difficult. There are people who do not understand why we give our time and effort in playing basketball when we “should” be focusing on our career, education, or family life,” says Natasha Kalam, Captain and point guard. On that note, Mridha says, “There are so many tournaments organised here and there, with no women's section. Even though we were lucky to be able to participate in the first ever South Asian tournament for women, we were asked to find sponsors ourselves. That wasn't fair.” Along with this, there are other limitations the girls face, “We have girls coming from Uttara, Gulshan, and Banani all the way to Dhanmondi at 8pm and practicing till 10pm. Along with this, the backing from the federation is quite limited and we had to practice on a court where half the side was broken,” says Natasha.
But with a gem of a coach, the girls had some level of hope and a lot of inspiration. “We are very thankful to our coach, Ranjit Chandra Das. He tried, with his heart and soul, to help us in every way possible. Because of him this team was formed,” says Gulnahar Mahbub Monika, playing at post. Captain Natasha continues, “If it wasn't for our coach, we probably would not have been able to participate in this championship at all.”
The coach, Ranjit Chandra Das, himself has a lot of dreams for women in sports in our country. “I knew we didn't have enough training to win. But the participation itself was crucial, if we want to go somewhere with this. Most times, basketball is just a hobby. I wanted these girls to know what it's like in the long run, what professional basketball is like. I wanted them to get the experience and come back with loads of motivation. Which they did – I see them more passionate about basketball now, training harder than ever. I will be taking the under-18 girls team to Thailand for the Asian Games soon,” says Das.
This, we know, is just the beginning. With Pride Group, who is passionate about promoting empowered women, as dedicated sponsors, we can see a bright future ahead for this new and thriving team. Let's watch proudly as our girls take over the courts of the world!