Through his vision, dedication and sheer ambition, Sheikh Kamal in 1972 founded the country’s first modern sports entity - Abahani Krira Chakra
Back in 1972, a year after Bangladesh gained its independence from Pakistan, a new sports club named Abahani Krira Chakra was born.
The person who founded the club, which in just four years became one of the top-tier sports institutions in the country, was none other than the architect of modern sports in Bangladesh -- Sheikh Kamal.
Through his vision, dedication and ambition, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s eldest son found the country’s first modern sports entity.
At that time, football was the most popular sport in Bangladesh. Abahani made an impact in the country’s football scene as it was the first club to have had a foreign coach.
Under the tutelage of their Irish coach Bill Hurt, Abahani soon became the favourite of local supporters.
This was only possible due to Sheikh Kamal’s guidance and leadership, which benefitted not only football, but the whole sports arena of the country.
Recalling the good old days of football in the country, Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF) President Kazi Salahuddin, a good friend of Kamal, said he missed Kamal’s prominent presence, whose role led to great changes in Bangladesh football.
Marking Kamal’s 71st birth anniversary, Salahuddin said things could have been much better for the country’s football, had his friend not been killed on the fateful night of August 15, 1975.
“ ... Because Kamal always used to say that we, together, will take the country’s football to the top in Asia,” the BFF chief added, as he referred to his last ever conversation with his friend.
He spoke last with Kamal on August 8, 1975, when Salahuddin was at the Dhaka airport, heading towards Malaysia with his teammates to participate in the Merdeka Cup.
Kamal was supposed to accompany the Bangladesh football team during the tournament, but could not due to a pre-scheduled program at Dhaka University.
During the conversation at the airport, Kamal told Salahuddin: “You will be the skipper of the national side till the day you retire. And I will be the team leader. We will definitely become one of Asia’s top teams someday.”
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The spirit of this great sports organizer was inspiring.
“If Sheikh Kamal was alive, our sports arena would have been in a better position. He was a visionary and had all up-to-date ideas regarding sports,” said Salahuddin, who still regrets the loss of Kamal.
“We could have led Asia as a football-playing nation, from where we could have automatically moved to the world stage. Our football could have been in a better situation.”
He went on saying that Bangladesh now has no dedicated football fields except Bangabandhu National Stadium, and this is their only hope.
“Ironically, this stadium remains busy very often, hosting other sporting events,” he added.
Salahuddin believes that Sheikh Kamal could have already taken measures to build a dedicated football stadium, following all the rules set by Fifa.
“He had such a strong organizational management capacity. He was able to foresee what would be the best thing to do,” Salahuddin said. “Kamal’s leadership could’ve helped the country’s sports arena to grow.
“His absence since 1975 has caused us to lag behind [in football, especially],” the BFF chief said.
Efforts were made by Abahani to form a formidable football squad the same year it was established.
Salahuddin and Golam Sarwar Tipu -- two of the most famous names in Bangladesh football -- used to play in Mohammedan Sporting Club back then, but were quite aware of Kamal forming a new club.
Being neighbours in Dhanmondi, Salahuddin and Sheikh Kamal were familiar with each other as well.
“We had a warm relation from the very beginning. We also studied at the same school; Kamal was three batches senior to me,” Salahuddin said, recounting his transfer to Abahani.
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“He also used to live in Dhanmondi 32, while I used to live in Dhanmondi 25 --- a very short distance.
“At that time, I was invited to play for Abahani despite it being a new club. It was a call from my friend. Other than that, Abahani had signed some promising players,” Salahuddin recalled.
“I finally joined the Abahani. In fact, Kamal had a bigger dream then. His vision also inspired us to perform to our level best,” he added.
Kamal, as Salahuddin said, was also interested in other sports -- both indoors and outdoors.
“He was always into all sports. But football was at the centre of his attention. He was also fond of cultural activities,” he said.
Kamal’s Abahani has become an iconic figure in the country’s sports arena. Since its birth 48 years ago, this club has transformed into an institution.
This has been possible only by following the vision and dreams of its founder.