U14 girls from Battambang province celebrated Women’s Day on the football field
International Women’s Day was celebrated all over Cambodia in many ways Monday, but in Battambang it was celebrated like never before.
Early morning, as the sun began to peek above the trees, around two hundred girls congregated at the Institute of Technology sports field in eager anticipation of a full day’s football. There were girls dressed in football kit – socks, boots and all – while some came in jeans or fancy shirts. Many were shoeless, and one little girl even sported a pastel pink dress.
The girls, all in the under 14 age category, hailed from across the province to join in the SALT Academy’s first-ever football festival for International Women’s Day. The SALT Academy had attracted the participants through its relationship with many local NGOs, who were excited to give their girls a chance to get out onto a field and perhaps discover some latent talent.
The day featured more than just a tournament, with organisers dividing one field into 16 sections in which they set up clinics, relays, passing and shooting drills, games of “keep-away,” and even a small 1-on-1 competition. The girls were then divided into 32 teams of six-a-side, which were sent either clockwise or anticlockwise around the field to allow them to continually face different opponents and skills sets.
As the morning wore on, the number of spectators multiplied along the sidelines and watched the bright-faced young women have a day set apart for females rather than the usual males.
Action stopped briefly mid-morning while the girls had a snack and sat around to listen to Al Soy from Battambang Mayoral Office, who came to encourage the girls and remind them of the rights they have as women.
Following the break, proceedings switched to a single elimination tournament, with each of the 32 teams needing to fight their way through 15-minute games. The games were particularly challenging for some of the less experienced players, but each team went to the field with high spirits and let the adrenaline of the day carry them when it seemed their feet could not.
Around half of the girls joining the festival play for teams that participate in the ongoing SALT league in Battambang, while the other half may have never even kicked a ball. There were a few unbalanced matchups, but the girls lacking footballing knowledge drew upon the joy of the special occasion to battle until the whistle blew.
In the afternoon, a grand final closed out the celebration, with the ASPECA girls team beating Komar Rearey 3-0 and taking home the trophy. While many of the Komar Rearey players have only recently started to take up football, ASPECA are currently playing in their third season of the SALT league, with Number 7 Huet Kimhong already a proven member of Cambodia’s national girls team that played in their first-ever international match in Laos last year.