The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Soccer girls flee Bangla ‘Taliban’

Jan. 23: Football fell victim to fundamentalism when a women’s team from India was forced to cut short its trip to Bangladesh in the face of stiff resistance by fanatics who found women playing football “degrading and obscene”.

The IFA team from Bengal, invited by the Bangladesh Football Federation to promote women’s football in the country, returned home late on Wednesday without playing the last game of the three-match tour in Netrokona, a district north of the capital.

The Daily Star reported that a little-known group, Towhidi Janata (devout persons), kicked off its hate campaign on Tuesday and threatened to stage a sit-in outside the ground if the exhibition tie was not called off.

The visiting team, which arrived in Dhaka on January 18, returned to India via the Benapole border last evening, the report said. “It is unfortunate that we have to leave Bangladesh earlier than expected. The girls were really scared knowing the reason,” the paper quoted Indian team leader Shankar Das as saying.

The first and second matches on January 19 and January 21 in Jessore and Dhaka, respectively, had passed off peacefully.

In Calcutta, Kuntala Ghosh Dastidar, the IFA team’s technical director, said the Bangla women showed a lot of “promise”, but all that would come to nought if fundamentalists have their way. “There was no threat to us,” Kuntala said. “The issue was being fought out on the streets and at meetings and though we realised our visit was the main problem, the security provided us was good enough to keep such extreme elements at arm’s length.”

Kuntala said in the first match — which the visitors won 2-1 — the stadium was packed with around 10,000 spectators. “There was tremendous enthusiasm, but we heard there were processions outside the stadium.”

The trouble started in Dhaka. The IFA team won 4-0, but before an empty Bangabandhu Stadium. “Outside, there were day-long processions and roadside meetings, and when we were told that our presence has made it grow, we really did not feel too good about it,” Kuntala said.

However, IFA joint secretary Ranjit Gupta said this was an isolated incident and will “not harm the good relationship we have with the Bangladesh Football Federation”.

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