Monday, October 04, 2004

Bangladesh: Hail our Soccer Heroines!

[The hardline Islamic parties in Bangladesh oppose any outdoor game involving women, although the country's women regularly compete in sports like volleyball, handball, swimming, judo and karate. Officials say the successful debut of women's football will encourage sports bodies to arrange similar competition in other fields.]

Row fails to halt women's soccer
By Waliur Rahman
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

Bangladesh's first women's football tournament has begun in the capital, Dhaka, despite opposition from some hard-line Islamic political parties.

The tournament kicked off without ceremony and at a stadium not normally used for soccer.

A spokesman of Jamiatul Ulama Islami Bangladesh warned of street protests if the tournament went ahead, saying women's soccer was "indecent".

But the sports minister called the tournament "epoch-making" for women.

Officials say the successful debut of women's football will encourage sports bodies to arrange similar competition in other fields.

However, organisers refrained from organising a press conference - a long-practiced norm before the start of any sporting event - to make it a low-key affair.

The hardline Islamic parties in Bangladesh oppose any outdoor game involving women, although the country's women regularly compete in sports like volleyball, handball, swimming, judo and karate.

Fifa rules

In July this year, the country's first women's wrestling tournament was called off after pressure from Islamic groups.

Moulana Muhiuddin Khan of the Jamiatul Ulama Islami Bangladesh said it had told the Bangladesh Football Federation of its objections to the soccer tournament.

"We told them that women's football is an indecent game. Playing football is not a job of the women."

Federation head SA Sultan denied it had had any formal talks with Islamic groups.

"We are aware of the religious sentiment of the people, but you see the event is now on," he told the BBC.

Minister for Sports Fazlur Rahman welcomed the tournament as an epoch-making event for women's sports in Bangladesh.

"We are bonded by certain rules and regulations of Fifa and it was a compulsion for the federation to organise the event," he told the BBC after inaugurating the tournament amid tight security.

He said Muslim countries like Pakistan, Iran, Jordan and Qatar had held football tournaments for women.

Eight teams are participating in the tournament, the first round of which will end on Sunday.

A date for the final has not yet been decided, but it is expected sometime next week.

BBC 04/10/2004