What the future holds for the Bangladesh girls

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Let it be the national side or different age level teams, the Bangladesh women have brought laurels for the country in the last couple of years with their latest title-winning success coming in the recently concluded Saff U-15 Championship.

Dhaka Tribune has tried to explore the probable ways through which the success of the Bangladesh girls can be replicated at the senior level. Below is the second and final part of the two-segment story on women’s football in Bangladesh.

Ensuring the growth of fitness level is key to replicate the youth team’s performance at the senior level and the talents are what sets the best teams apart. The rich eastern Asian countries are doing well because of their numerous academies, clubs and a strong women’s domestic football structure which promote women’s football, while Bangladesh has none. The football federation’s efforts to stick with a group of young talented girls with limited facilities earned them the success for the time being, but without ensuring a proper football academy and regular practice opportunities for the women footballers, the success stories may not continue in the senior level as well in the longer run.

The BFF president Kazi Salahuddin told Dhaka Tribune that the much-awaited women’s football league will resume this year. He, however, said a proper academy is still a dream for Bangladesh football, reminding their limitation in running Sylhet’s BFF football academy due to its huge expenditure every year, which requires big sponsors or government fund.

The former national football star though revealed their best possible plan regarding the future of the young girls. “My vision is to keep the girls for four to five years in continuous training providing regular salary, add 15-20 more girls to the national camp and arrange 12-13 international matches every year. It might require Tk four to five crores every year and if we can do that, these girls will contest in top level as well,” said an optimistic Salahuddin Thursday, adding that an arrangement has already been made to provide the girls a portion of BKSP in Savar.

The new location without a shadow of a doubt would be a better arrangement. The girls have always held their residential camps at the dormitory of the BFF House in Motijheel for the last few years. The girls have to train at the nearest artificial turf, which is used for multi-sports purpose and unsuitable for professional practice. The coaches and players have been asking for a gym for more than a year now but to no avail. BFF general secretary Abu Nayeem Shohag told Dhaka Tribune Wednesday that a gym would be set up by this year, without revealing, however, any concrete development.

Bangladesh’s achievements in the youth level in the other sports disciplines have always caught special attention but very few of them managed to replicate their success to the national level. The most relevant example is the Bangladesh boys’ team who in 2015 won the Saff U-15 Championship but very few among them managed to maintain their fitness without having any academy facility or long-term camp. Only two members of this U-16 squad managed to survive because of the domestic clubs, like forward Saad Uddin at Abahani Limited and Sarwar Zaman Nipu at Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club Limited.

Due to the irregularity of the women’s football league, there is no club in Bangladesh who run a regular women’s football team. Only three services teams – Bangladesh Ansar and Village Defence Party, Team BJMC and recently Bangladesh Police – have women’s football side. Bangladesh Ansar & VDP and BJMC have around 17-18 players from the current national team while BKSP also formed a women’s football squad a couple of years ago.

A Bangladesh women’s youth team camped outside the country for the first time ever last year. Thanks to Salahuddin and Mahfuza Akter Kiron and their “special connection” with the Japan Football Association, the women’s team twice attended camps in Japan prior to the AFC U-16 Championship in September. The girls for the first time tasted the “real facility” of an academy during their two-week stay at Sakai football Academy in Osaka state. The coaches and the girls still talk among themselves about the huge facilities of the academy whenever they get the chance.

“There are 18 playing fields inside the academy containing all the modern training facilities. Japan alone has a total of 46 football academies like this one. We have none,” said Kiron, Golam Rabbani Choton and most of the footballers in recent times.

Bayezid Alam Zubair Nipu, who worked in BKSP and was the chief co-ordinator of BFF football academy, visited Sakai academy twice and said 16 fields have modern artificial turfs while Bangladesh has only one, that too in a poor state. Bangladesh’s only Uefa A licensed coach Maruful Haque told Dhaka Tribune, “We have a very weak football foundation which can guarantee the growth of talent and continuation of proper training till the players get mature. There is no shortcut in football. It should begin from the grass-roots level right up to the senior level with the permanent settlement. Every international footballer came through the system of an academy.”

The responsibility of regularising the women’s football league lies with the football federation. The league was held only two times, in 2011 and 2013, and since then, none has been organised. The women footballers will get more practice and training opportunities with the continuation of the women’s football league.

Former national footballer Golam Sarwar Tipu was the head coach of the Bangladesh team in the mid-1980s. He told Dhaka Tribune, “The league must start. The continuation of women’s football league will increase the activity among the women footballers. They will get more match experience and it will also provide them a source of earning.”

Almost all the girls come from poor families, thus they chose women’s football, which never promises any future or living. Twenty-three girls out of 39 get Tk10,000 while the rest get Tk3,000 each as monthly wage, which is provided from the pocket of the BFF president. Tipu is also among the ones impressed by the girls, terming their achievement “fantastic”, but at the same time said, “Most of the girls come from vulnerable families. Despite the international achievements the girls have no real future. There is no club, no league for women’s football. But to achieve in the top level, it requires special attention.”

Along with the women’s football league, the urgency of installing a proper football academy has been increasing day by day following the achievements in youth level, but not so much in senior level. When the importance of establishing a football academy was reminded to the State Minister for Youth and Sports, Shri Biren Sikder Thursday, he told Dhaka Tribune, “The government has already taken a number of steps for the development of women’s football in the country. To maintain the continuation of women’s football, a plan is already set in motion to hold nationwide secondary school football tournament after the name of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which will increase more practice opportunities for the girls across the country.”

He added, “The 37 acres National Sports Complex is being built in Purbachal where cricket already got 17 acres. It has not yet been finalised as to which other disciplines will get the remaining 20 acres.” The Youth and Sports Minister continued, “The government is concerned about the future of women’s football. We will provide all the support to the girls. We will soon discuss this matter.”

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