Hunting for female footballers in a challenging social context

Young girl football players, mostly from underprivileged rural families

By Akram Hosen
Striker Pria Dutta of the Gopalganj team in Bangladesh
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Mawa

31 July 2019

Bangladesh women's football teams have been a source of pride for the nation with their winning run in the last couple of years. But building these teams have never been easy in a conservative society.

Young girl football players, mostly from underprivileged rural families, often have to brave against family resistance and social evils like child marriage to initiate and continue with the sport.

To empower and support girl footballers UNICEF have partnered with Bangladesh Football Federation for the Under 16 National Women’s Football Championship and National Talent Hunt 2019.

Social motivation and publicity

Coaches have been appointed at district levels to find out potential footballers and motivate their parents. Sometimes loudspeaker announcements were made in rural areas to tempt girls to participate in the games.

“When we went to villages and talked to parents about their daughters’ skills and interest in football, many of them expressed concern that it will ruin their children's education,’” says Abdul Mannan Mani, general secretary of Gopalganj District Football Association.

“Even during the training phase, some parents come and declare that they have arranged a marriage for their daughter. Then, we have put in all our efforts to stop the child marriage as well,” he adds.

Abdul has been a key organiser of the first primary round of selection, a three-day championship in Gopalganj, participated by six districts in the region during late last month.

“At the district level, we primarily selected the players for the teams that are playing now and conducted medical tests on the girls for fitness,” Abdul says.

Striker Pria Dutta of the Gopalganj team
UNICEF Bangladesh/2019/Mawa
Striker Pria Dutta of the Gopalganj girls football team is practicing.

Search for potential future stars

Similar events have been held in Rangpur, Rajshahi, Jashore, Khagrachhari and Mymensingh, covering every region of the country. A total of 39 district teams participated in the championships, says Ahsan Ahmed Amit, Head of Media, Bangladesh Football Federation.

“We have the Federation’s coaches and representatives at every venue. They are carefully observing the games along with the local coaches. They're on the lookout for potential future stars. By the end of these selection championships, we’ll get six champions and two runner-up teams,” he says.

These teams will participate in two groups of four in a round robin league. They will go through a selection process conducted by the federation’s technical committees, coaches and judges.

“This is how we form the U-12, 14, 15 and 18 teams. By the end of the final round of this talent search programme, we will have many potential footballers,” he says, standing outside Sheikh Moni Stadium in Gopalganj while the players of the host team were celebrating their victory in the championship.

The coaches have primarily listed six girls who performed best in the matches.

Girls begin to dream big

Striker Pria Dutta of the Gopalganj team is one of them. “My aim is to play for the national football team,” says the 6th grader whose father, a carpenter, struggles to feed their family of four.

“Majority of the participants are from underprivileged families. This initiative will create opportunities for them. They will one day play for the national women's team,” says Amit Roy, coach of the Bagerhat team.

It is because of girls like these that Bangladesh became champions in U-14, U-16, U-18 in South Asian Football Federation Championship, he said. “Bangladeshi girls’ football team is now among the top eight girls' football teams in Asia.”

“Thanks to the phenomenal performance of women footballers, girls playing football is not an outlandish idea anymore. People are starting to look up to the women footballers. Some parents in the villages even want their kids to play.”  Ahsan claims.