Fund constraint choking women’s football

Women’s football in Bangladesh has seen consistent success through the year. With its recent success of becoming SAFF champions followed by all round enthusiasm for the sport, it could go even further were it not for a lack of funds.

The date was 19 September 2022.

One of the best days in Bangladesh football history.

On this day, the Bangladesh women's football team created history in front of 16,000 spectators at Dashrath Rangshala in Nepal defeating the hosts 3-1 to become SAFF champions for the first time.

This is touted to be the most prestigious success of Bangladeshi football in the last two decades. Before this, the SAFF men’s championship in 2003 was the biggest success of Bangladesh football.

Over time, Bangladesh football’s popularity as well as the game has lost its lustre when the entire country’s sport calendar revolved around football tournaments. This recent success of the women's teams and other age level performance in women’s football have managed to rekindle the passion for football leading to a resurgence of the game’s popularity. The overwhelming enthusiasm centring football that came on the heels of the SAFF victory is quite indicative of that.

With hindsight this resurgence was only due to a key decision by the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) not to ignore women’s football. It could have easily skirted around it concentrating its efforts on rejuvenating men’s football before doing anything substantial with women’s football. As is apparent now, that had not been the case. It was a difficult decision, but BFF did not shirk away. And it has paid rich dividends.

Although there is no separate government sponsorship for women's football, BFF has promoted women's football in its efforts. A formidable national side was developed by dint of another visionary decision to set up a permanent residential camp for girls in the BFF House. Apart from the national team, women's age group teams have also been nurtured through intensive care. Starting off with 36 footballers, the programme now boasts around 70 footballers who are undergoing intensive training at the Elite Women's Football Academy under direct BFF management.

The benefits of these activities have also been tangible. Bangladesh's achievements in women's football in the last five years are outstanding. In 2018, Bangladesh U-15 women’s team were the unbeaten champions of Jockey Club Girls International Youth Football Tournament. The same year, Bangladesh U-18 women’s team did not lose a single point on their way to claiming the SAFF U-18 title. U-16 women’s team also tasted success in 2018 winning AFC Women’s Championship qualifier round one.

In 2019, Bangladesh U-19 National Women’s Team were joint champions in Bangamata U-19 Women’s International Gold Cup. Bangladesh U-15 National Team reached the final of SAFF U-15 Women's championship, but lost the final on penalties against India in Bhutan’s Changlimithang stadium. Bangladesh U-16 team qualified for the final round of AFC Women’s Championship. In 2020, Bangladesh could not take part in any tournaments due to the Corona pandemic. After the pandemic waned down, Bangladesh hosted the SAFF U-19 Women’s Championship and won it. They beat South Asian arch-rivals India in the final by 1-0.

The next year, two age level groups namely U-15 and U-19 teams were second best in their respective SAFF championships. Apart from these age-level successes, Bangladesh national women’s team won a 2 matches series against Malaysia Women in 2022. The rise continued, as the Bangladesh national team claimed the SAFF Championship title for the first time.

The trail of success continued as Bangladesh women clinched the U-20 SAFF championship. They finished second in the UEFA assisted U-17 SAFF, where Russia participated as a UEFA representative nation. Despite being far inferior in ranking and physicality, Bangladesh put up a strong fight in their match against Russia. This year, Bangladesh qualified for Round 1 of AFC U-17 Women’s Championship.

At present, BFF has a budget of only BDT 2.75 crore (27.5 million) per annum for women's football, thanks to the assistance from Dhaka Bank with BDT 18 million Bashundhara Group 7.5 million and Japan Football Federation (JFF) with BDT 2 million. Despite the limited funds, BFF manages to carry out all women’s football related activities, including organising international matches, expenses of participating in various international tournaments and salaries of coaches and players.

Bangladesh is achieving regular success in the SAFF region with the national team and age group teams playing superior football. However, they are still not able to raise themselves at continental level when they are up against bigger teams like Japan or Korea Republic. To do well in Asia, BFF needs further co-operation from the government and private organisations.

After playing in the SAFF championship in September last year, they could not play any more international matches because BFF had run out of funds allocated for that purpose.

This long time away from matches has become a challenge for the players to maintain their fitness and keep themselves energised. However, BFF arranged FIFA Friendly International matches in July 2023 FIFA Window with Nepal Women’s National Football Team.

However, lack of funds is not the only obstacle in organising regular matches for the girls. Lack of adequate football infrastructure such as world-class stadiums is another constraint. For a long time now, Bangabandhu National Stadium has been going through renovation. In the capital Dhaka, the matches of the women's national team and all age groups have to be organised at the Bir Sreshtha Shaheed Sipahi Mustafa Kamal Stadium in Kamalapur. But playing in this stadium is quite risky.

Due to the overload of matches on substandard turf, players often get injured on this ground. Apart from this, most of the facilities that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) requires from a ground to organise tournaments are also not complied with.

Although it is not possible to organise international matches regularly, BFF is trying hard to organise women’s domestic leagues regularly. Top clubs joined forces in these leagues, so that players can have financial security. Even if they are not getting to play international matches regularly, they are at least able to improve themselves in domestic football.

Besides, for the first time, Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) has also taken the initiative to organise a women's franchise league. This franchise league can play an important role in further catalysing the renaissance of women's football and spreading women's football across the country. Meanwhile, the new Women's Super League (WSL) tournament logo and trophy have been unveiled. The first season of this competition will be held soon. 

To continue with the progress of women’s football, Bangladesh Football Federation needs urgent financial assistance from the government. BFF’s current budget needs to increase six-fold to reach Tk 12 crore, according to the federation’s estimates, to run women’s football activities smoothly.

The funds will ensure that the national women’s team gets to play matches in each of the 5 FIFA windows and pay for the salaries of the staff and crew. Tk. 3.5 crore will be spent on players’ salary, Tk. 3 crore on coaching staff salary and Tk. 1.5 crore for sporting goods. The remaining Tk. 4 crores (75 lacs each window) will be needed for match related logistics.

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