‘It is high time to properly promote women’s football in the country’

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On the eve of 22nd December 2021, the Bangladesh under-19 women’s football team secured the SAFF U19 Women’s Championship after defeating India 1-0 in front of a packed Stadium in Dhaka. A few years back the thought of fans filling up a stadium to watch women’s play would have been unimaginable but in the last decade, women’s football has continued to go from strength to strength. More advertisement, more broadcasting deals, and sponsorship have seen the beautiful game grow over the world. We sat down with two of our star female athletes who have been training at the Next Level Academy to discuss this monumental victory and what it means to women’s sports in the country. 

Atreyee Ahsan and Asila Rahman are both grade 9 students from Sunbeams and DPS STS respectively.

They have been training at NLSM since the inauguration of the Academy.

What are your thoughts on BD U19 Women’s team winning the SAFF Championship in their home ground? 

Atreyee Ahsan: I was thrilled to hear that the Bangladesh U19 team had won the SAFF Championship. The team had consistently played great throughout the entire tournament and winning the championship on home ground against such a good opponent is an amazing achievement. This win shows how much raw talent all these players have and how they have the potential to take the national team to a higher level if they are given the proper resources and support. 

Asila Rahman: I think that it is very empowering for women to experience and witness the U19 Women’s teams’ victory, it will set a foundation and give confidence for young women who want to pursue a career not only in football but also in other sports.

Football has been a growing sport, but the lack of resources and guidelines in Bangladesh has continued to deter young players from pursuing the sport. The goal of NLSM is to bridge that gap and encourage more players to continue chasing that dream. When it comes to female players, the motivation is even harder to find.

How do you feel being a woman footballer in BD despite the challenges? What keeps you motivated? 

Atreyee Ahsan: The lack of enough players to play with is one hurdle and the main challenge has been to find a consistent team to play with outside of school. One of the reasons why there is a lack of consistent female athletes is because there is literally no established academy or field that has a women’s team. If girls don’t have a place to play regularly where they feel like they’re a part of a team, how do you stay motivated?

However, it is also true that in order to form women’s teams, passionate female athletes need to initiate teams and matches themselves and encourage girls to regularly play. Places like NLSM are extremely needed as it has allowed me to be a part of a team and practice with a regular roster of players. I believe that more female athletes will be happy to know there is a proper academy that takes in players regardless of age or gender.

The main thing that has kept me motivated is my own love for the game. I have loved playing football for as long as I can remember so I play regardless of the number of consistent female athletes around me.

Asila Rahman: After the recent victory of the U19 Women’s national team I feel more empowered as a woman playing football.

I am motivated by my peers, the very people i see myself in, is an extremely valuable experience. The ability to witness and hear the things they are doing to revolutionise their communities; being able to share ideas, discuss and brainstorm for the future, it’s something that should be an integral part of every youth’s life.

There are still quite a few enthusiastic women footballers who are keen to make a breakthrough. What is evident is that victories such as the under19 team empower young girls to continue to play football and realise that the game is growing, and female sports are becoming more accepted. However, there is still a long way to go for it to reach out to a wider audience. 

Atreyee and Asila spoke about the importance of promoting women’s football in Bangladesh. The lack of promotion or marketing means most people are unaware of these games and they are not as nearly talked about as the men’s teams. Broadcasting plays a huge part in the promotion and to bring in new fans.

How important do you think it is to promote women’s football in Bangladesh?

Atreyee Ahsan: I think it is needless to say that it is high time to properly promote women’s football in the country. Women’s games need to be broadcasted so that people have the chance to actually watch the games and watch the team play. Often, we do not even know when the women’s teams have games as they are not nearly as talked about as the men’s teams. Broadcasting the games play a huge part in promotion as being able to watch the games actually allow the people of the country to stay invested in the women’s teams and to stop thinking of the women’s teams as the secondary team to their male counterparts. Promotion also inspires potential players and help the normalisation of women’s football. The people of the country should actually be able to see how well the female athletes play and then the teams will receive more and more support and be able to utilise proper resources that are needed to cultivate their talent. 

Asila Rahman: I feel that it is of the utmost importance to promote women’s football in Bangladesh as there are many young women athletes out there in Bangladesh who cannot pursue their dreams or careers because of the stereotype and prejudice surrounding women in sports.

COVID has been an obstacle for many athletes, especially for girls who can only play sports when they are at school. Individuals, such as Atreyee, began to practice on her own but found it difficult to organise casual matches or practices with other girls. NLSM has allowed school-going girls like Atreyee and Asila to attend regular training sessions and improve their game while being trained by professional coaches.

How has it been at NLSM Training and how can we as a nation promote women’s athletics?

Atreyee Ahsan: I am grateful to be a part of NLSM where I can attend regular training and get better at my own game. At NLSM I am surrounded by good athletes and I believe playing with them helps me become a better and more technical player.

Asila Rahman: I would say my time at NLSM has taught me a great deal. Not only has it taught me to become better at football but also in other characteristics of my life. For example, I noticed a big change in the discipline of my daily life after I started attending NLSM. 

Atreyee and Asila are just two of the many female athletes in Bangladesh who are motivated to pursue a career in football. While they are grateful that the world has started to accept the potential of women’s football and its growth, they still believe there is a long way to go for the sport to thrive in Bangladesh. When asked how we as a nation can promote female athletes, Asila said that in her opinion the use of PR and social media platforms will greatly impact the movement. Atreyee emphasised that the growth needs to start from the primary level and the inequality in investment and structure also needs to be addressed. 

Atreyee Ahsan: How many public schools do we know have a girl’s football team? On the other hand, it would be difficult to find a public school that does not have a boys’ team. Every institution has to give equal importance to women’s athletics alongside men’s athletics. It needs to be normalized for schools to have women’s teams for every sport they offer. When girls are supported in a school environment and have the option to pick up a sport in their own school, they are more likely to actually play sports and continue playing. To promote women’s athletics there needs to be better systems through which interested athletes can try-out for national or regional teams. 

As of now most female athletes that start from a young age have to choose between education or playing for their country, which should never be a mutually exclusive occurrence. If there are easier systems through which girls can play regional tournaments and then try out for national teams, young girls will be more encouraged to work harder and this will in turn also benefit the national team to receive more talent.

Asila Rahman: In my opinion the use of PR and social platforms to promote women’s athletics will greatly impact the movement.

Throughout the world, there has been a progression of where women’s football is now compared to even ten years ago. Underdogs such as Canada winning the gold in Olympics, more marketing for Women’s World Cups and Women’s Euros, free streaming for women’s domestic leagues abroad have started to bring more fans into the game and even more players who now have the opportunity to secure professional contracts. At NLSM, we believe that Bangladesh has a pool of talented individual female athletes who deserve a chance to have a shot at their dreams. We provide the same packages to both male and female footballers to allow them to continue their education while also improving their football. 

It is essential for us at NLSM to ensure that we invest equal attention, facilities and provide the right training to motivate female athletes. The game is going to continue to grow and we do not want to be left behind.