Things were never easy for Joya when she chose a career that wasn’t considered ‘suitable’ for a woman.While her friends at Jahangirnagar University were busy preparing for the BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) exams, Joya Chakma was studying the FIFA rules and regulations.
Joya had been a player on the women’s national football team. She also officiated the first international match of the Bangladesh national women team. She completed the FIFA Class-III Coaching Course in 2010 and the Class-II Coaching Course in 2013. Three years later in 2016, she was selected as a national-level referee. But, despite her repeated efforts, she still couldn’t become a FIFA official.
Then after trying for two consecutive years, very recently Joya finally passed the exam at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, following the FIFA rules.
Another Bangladeshi girl, Salma Akter, also passed the same FIFA exam after failing last year. Both the girls — Joya Chakma and Salma Akter — are the first female referees in Bangladesh. They will start their careers as FIFA officials in January 2020.
Salma was stunned and could not sleep the night she learnt that she passed the FIFA exams. “I still can’t believe it! I can’t express the joy I felt after getting the news. A very big dream has been fulfilled. I couldn’t sleep at all,” she told Prothom Alo at Bangabandhu National Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
It was the same with Joya. She said, “Finally, a long and stressful struggle has come to an end. I’m truly delighted as a long-cherished dream has come true.”
Joya, from Rangamati, began officiating football matches in Bangladesh from 2010. But she began her career on a regular basis with the Bangamata football tournament in 2012.
Since then, she has officiated 35 international matches including AFC U-14 championship tournaments in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Tajikistan and SAFF U-15 women’s tournament in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. In 2015, she officiated 10 matches of the international football festival in Berlin.
Joya is also a coach of BKSP’s (Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protishtan) women’s football team. But currently her dreams revolve around refereeing. “My first target is to enter the FIFA Elite Panel. I also want to work for the development of female footballers through coaching or refereeing.”
Wishing to see herself as an icon in Bangladesh women’s football arena, Joya said, “I want to change Bangladesh’s culture in sports. Now women can work as referees as well as coaches. The door has opened for girls. Earlier, there were no female players, you’ll see many of them now; there were no female referees or coaches earlier but many of them work as referees and coaches now. This will help them think that another career awaits them when their playing days are over.”
Netrokona’s Salma was not a national-level footballer like Joya. She began playing along with the boys and ended up as a district level player. But a neighbour Ferdous Hasan inspired her to take up the refereeing course. “Ferdous bhai used to say there’re a very few female referees in the country. Go and try your luck. I didn’t have to look back after passing the first exam in refereeing.”
A student of Eden Mohila College, Salma, worked as an assistant official in 15 international matches of AFC U-14 championship, SAFF U-15 tournament and Bangamata international tournament. She takes encouragement from the fact that Bangladeshi women are playing good football in and outside the country.
“The scenario in women’s football was different earlier. The girls are doing better now. That’s why we are also getting the chance to officiate matches in big tournaments.”
Once the neighbours used to ask Salma’s father, “What does your daughter do in Dhaka? Why does she wear shorts?” Everything has changed. Now the Netrokona people take pride in the fact that Salma is from their area.
She dreams of officiating World Cup matches. “I’ve fulfilled one of my dreams by fighting hard. I dream of officiating World Cup matches one day.”