The jubilation over the Bangladesh women's football team's triumph in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Women's Championship 2022 is quite natural. When the men's football team is all frustration even in this regional tournament, the girls against all odds have made a strong statement of themselves ---so strong that it has compelled us to make an appraisal of their comparative advantages and disadvantages.
What is particularly noticeable is that the women's team is on a roll, whereas the men's team is on the slide. The fact is stunning that the girls are not a product of a vibrant football tradition which legacy the men's team can certainly boast. More revealing is the fact that all the girls had to fight a psychological battle against the conservative and backward mentality of the communities in which they were born and brought up. Many of them would have fallen victim to child marriage had a few dedicated unconventional coaches and teachers not gave everything possible to make the girls' families convinced of the footballing talent of their daughters and their prospect.
If overcoming the social outlook was a major achievement on the part of the women footballers, the discrimination they still face in terms of facilities for training, arrangement of league or other tournaments and remuneration is abysmal. Most of the girls hail from poor and marginal families. And lo! when the members of the champion team are awash with goodwill and accolades, there were two pieces of news concerning the eviction attempt of families of two of the players from the land they were allocated for their earlier success. A few of the players have for their shelters nothing but dilapidated shanties. There is also a downside to the euphoria that swept the team on their return from Kathmandu with the trophy. Money and valuables from two of the players' luggage went missing. What a shame! Who the villains are to rob these girls of their hard-earned money? Let the culprits be identified for awarding them the punishment they deserve.
True, the poor families depend on the income of their daughters ---some of them completely. But the monthly salary they receive in three categories ---Tk 12,000, 10,000 and 8,000--- can hardly be called more than a pittance. Can they eat the nutritious food they need for playing such a physical game requiring strength and resilience? Franchise football tournament for them could be an answer to their financial crisis.
Men's team won the SAFF 2003 championship in Dhaka. The biennial tournament introduced in 1993 saw the Bangladesh men's team emerge champion in its sixth edition, so have done the women's team in sixth edition of the women's version. Since then the men's team has never really indicated it was a serious contender. By this time foreign coaches have been appointed to boost their fortunes but to no effect. But players of different franchise teams let alone the national squad now earn a decent amount.
So, these are areas that cry for urgent redress. Not all the players of the girls' team will stay physically fit like their captain Sabina Khatun who shows no sign of slowing at the age of 28 plus. Their financial security is indeed a major concern. If they are not taken well care of, they are at risk of losing their foothold. They have proved their prowess under the supervision of a local coach who has inspired them, made them believe in their ability. But even the coach himself is discriminated against.
If the girls are given what they need to enhance their physical fitness and footballing skills along with the monetary rewards, they may aim at further glories. They will earn more laurels for the country and make the nation proud. Above everything by doing what they already have done, they have made a breakthrough in the psychological barrier of a backward community. Their journey was never smooth. One of the early organisers was sharing her bitter experience of postponement of a women's tournament in the face of threat from some Islamic radical groups.
Hopefully, this triumph will help consign the taboo surrounding women's football as a career to the back burner once for all. It will also compel the detractors to look at girls and women, not just the players alone, with some respect. Their worth will be judged by their human values and merit as equal members of society, not just by their physical appeal.