While the cricket scorecard displayed an easy win for the women in green, their nine wicket victory against the United States last year was more than just a modest cricketing triumph. It was the victory that gave them the One Day International (ODI) status. It was an achievement not just for women’s cricket but for the entire sporting fraternity of the country. The victory, in a way, represents the changes — both in terms of attitude and training — that have taken place in the women’s sporting arena.With a string of positive performances in the last couple of years, which includes a silver medal in the Asian Games, the women’s cricket in Bangladesh has travelled a long distance ever since the team’s inception in 2007. It is therefore not a surprise to see them dominating the limelight when it comes to women’s sports in the country.
“Women’s cricket in Bangladesh has changed in a big way over the last few years. Many more parents are willing to let their daughters come out on the field and play. Our domestic structure today is a lot stronger than before since we play a lot more matches,” explains the young captain of the Bangladeshi team, Salma Khatun. “Finding players was more difficult before. Today, however, many more girls are willing to play and this will definitely help us create a stronger team,” she adds.
Apart from battling social barriers which arise from conservative societies, the women’s sporting arena also faces difficulties in for funds. Reports suggest the requirement of an increase in funding for the women’s cricket team, as it now has to compete with the best cricketing nations in the world. “We have improved a lot since 2007. But we can do a lot better if we are assigned coaches for each department by the cricket board,” says Khatun. Perhaps attaining longer contracts with foreign coaches, as opposed to short stints (like that of Mamatha Moben, former Indian women’s cricket captain who coached Bangladesh for three months) can be the next step for the cricketing administration.
Several sports analysts state that investment is an utmost necessity in order to support and develop talent instilled in players such as Salma Khatun or Khadiza Tul Kubra. The latter, who also happens to be the youngest member of the squad, has already made a name for herself by picking up 18 wickets in the Women’s World Cup qualifiers last year. Kubra’s popularity was also reflected in the annual Daily Star poll in 2011, organised by the daily’s sports desk. She received more votes than the current captain of the men’s cricket team, Mushfiqur Rahim! One therefore hopes that talents like these are groomed accordingly by the Bangladesh Cricket Board.
While women’s cricket in Bangladesh is on the uptrend, one cannot say the same regarding some of the other sports in the country. Although several steps, such as organising football and handball tournaments have been taken in the last couple of years, the standard of the games continue to be a problem. “You cannot promote a sport simply by organising tournaments or other related contests. You need to love the sport and it needs to be a passion. Only then can a sport be truly promoted in the country,” says Kamrunnahar Dana, General Secretary, Women’s Sport Association. “We need to organise talent hunts and other countrywide programmes to look for athletes in order to improve our standard,” she adds.
The women’s football league which took place last year is a classic example. Although the league encouraged several female players to compete in a professional manner, the standard of some of the games was below par. One of the clubs for instance, conceded 28 goals in two matches with the team’s coach stating that most of the players came from different sports and were competing just for the sake of participation. The final of the tournament, however, was a lot more competitive as Sheikh Jamal beat Mohammedan SC by two goals to none.
According to Dana, one of the main reasons behind the lack of improvement in the standard of women’s football is corruption. “Apart from problems caused by extremists, women’s football has also been mired in political problems,” she says. She further states that the initiative to promote football amongst women took place way back in 2003. “We used to have regular training camps for women back then even when we did not receive funding from the concerned organisations. We also participated in the AFC under-seventeen tournament and various other competitions. Although we did not win the matches, we did score goals and received international acclaim for our progress,” says Dana. She believes that arranging the league was a positive step and hopes that many more football competitions are organised for women in the country. She also emphasised the importance of different inter-school and inter-college competitions as this would then provide the opportunity to look for talented athletes.
Apart from excelling in cricket, Bangladeshi women have also bagged medals in Kabbadi. They received bronze in the recently held Asian Games and silver in the South Asian Games (SA) hosted in 2010. The SA games in 2010 saw Bangladesh achieve its highest ever medal tally in any international tournament with 18 gold medals — ight of which came through female athletes in events like shooting, taekwondo, karate and wushu. Perhaps one of the more surprising victories came from the Central South Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships, where the Bangladesh women’s team bagged the silver medal, finishing second only to India. This was Bangladesh’s first silver medal in gymnastics at the international level since 1995.
The abovementioned examples have made one thing quite clear — the demand to take up sports at a professional level amongst women in Bangladesh has increased over the last couple of years. With regular domestic tournaments organised by different sporting federations, women have been encouraged to participate in both team games and individual events. From the inspirational victory in the gymnastic championship to getting ranked as the ninth best ODI team in the world, female athletes are becoming much more competitive at the international stage. These victories have lead to a new-found belief which has inspired women from various backgrounds to take up sports at a professional level. On the whole, it has been an encouraging year for female athletes; however, there is still a long road ahead. One hopes that the concerned organisations realise their potential and support them in whatever way possible.