Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday welcomed the country’s U-15 women’s football team led by captain Maria Manda, a young Catholic tribal Garo from Bhalukapara parish (diocese of Mymensigh).
The Bangladeshi team took home the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup for the first time by defeating India 1-0 in the final match on 24 December at the Bir Shreshtha Shaheed Sepoy Mostafa Kamal Stadium in Kamalapur, Dhaka.
The home team remained unbeaten throughout the tournament, and did not concede any goals to its opponents. After crushing Nepal 6-0 in the first match, the Bangladeshis reached the final with two 3-0 victories over Bhutan and India.
Yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Hasina welcomed the team at the Gana Bhaban, her official residence in Dhaka, and gave the players presents.
“The youngsters have brought great honour to the country,” she said. “Being undefeated champions in the SAFF U-15 tournament, defeating India twice, was not an easy task for our girls’ football team. It is undoubtedly a huge achievement.”
Prime Minister Hasina greeted the national team that won every match without conceding a single goal. In predominantly Muslim Bangladesh, Muslim clerics strongly discourage girls and women from taking part in any sport.
The prime minister also took the opportunity to express words of encouragement to young people to take up sports in addition to academic studies, because it is important to maintain a “healthy mind in a healthy body.” Through physical activities, “You will not get lost on the wrong path whilst you will open your minds.”
Bangladesh Football Federation president Kazi Salahuddin called on the prime minister to support the development of football in the country, noting that women’s and men’s football would “bring more laurels to the country in the future”.
Expressing joy at “being close to the Prime Minister,” Maria Manda, a tireless midfielder, said “We are grateful and we feel motivated to continue our success.”
Maria comes from Kolosindur, a remote village. Her goal now is to become a football star to beat poverty, which her family has to face every day. She also wants to lead the women’s national team in the future, and has asked others to pray for her.
The community is “proud of Maria Manda for her exceptional contribution to the country,” said Fr Bipin Nokrek, a priest in Mymensingh. “We pray for her health and her triumph.”
In Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country, Muslim clerics strongly discourage girls and women from taking part in sports. Millions of Muslim women wear the full-body burka. Girls like Maria Manda go instead against the wave of Islamist radicalism.