'We had to suffer one or two days a month, since housie was played on some afternoons,but sports was sacred for us'
ST Aslam, a well-known former national football player, and member of Bangladesh Football Federation [BFF], played for Victoria Sporting Club from 1977 to 1979.
The club, allegedly the pioneer of casinos in Bangladesh, was a turning point for Aslam.
“It was a giant club. We would secure fifth or sixth place in the Premier League [the top tier of the country's football leagues], and we even defeated Abahani and Mohameddan,” he recalled.
Housie and bridge (card game) were later introduced at the club, he said.
“We had to suffer one or two days a month, since housie was played on some afternoons,but sports was sacred for us,” he added.
“Notoriety and muscle power got hold of clubs [such as Victoria], which is why the sports sector is in a vulnerable condition,” he said.
Once a Premier League giant, Victoria now plays first division, which is a clear deterioration.
Police raided Victoria Sporting Club and found casino and other gambling equipments on Sunday.
However, Victoria brought casino culture to Motijheel “club para” (area) under Jubo League (Dhaka South) President Ismail Chowdhury Samrat’s patronization – probably five years ago, said some sports organizers to Dhaka Tribune seeking anonymity.
The club’s status as a football club began to go down once influential politicians took over Victoria.
Md Shawkat Ali Khan Jahangir, member of BFF and Manikganj district Awami League, reportedly muscled into the president post of Victoria Club and held it for more than a decade.
Later on, Samrat came and started running a casino at the Victoria Sporting Club.
Dhaka Tribune tried to reach the two by phone but to no avail. Samrat is known to have gone into hiding after the raids and Jahangir’s phone is switched off.
Another ‘casino’ club, Kalabagan Krira Chakra, was one of the country’s oldest cricket academies.
Once a prominent cricket club, and although it still plays in the Premier Division Cricket League, it was the last of 12 clubs in the last 2017-18 season.
Sources seeking anonymity, said Nazmul Karim Tinku, former secretary of Kalabagan Krira Chakra, started running a casino in the club. He was also the president of Kalabagan Thana Awami League unit.
Other than Tinku, Kalabagan Krira Chakra President Shafiqul Alam Firoz, now arrested in the recent crackdown on illegal casinos, not only took over the club for about 20 years, but also facilitated casino style gambling at the club.
Except for Abahani Limited, the same can be said of almost all sporting clubs, where political figures have supposedly ruined the sporting environment of the clubs and brought criminal practices instead.
Exercising political influence, some politicians have even taken over higher position of authority at multiple clubs simultaneously, and reportedly have run casinos inside them.
Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) Councillor AKM Mominul Haque Sayeed has been running the Arambagh Sporting Club, Dilkusha Sporting Club, and Mohammedan Sporting Club, said police sources.
There are allegations of tender manipulation and extortion against Sayeed as well, they added, and many locals also know him as “Casino Sayeed.”
Molla Md Abu Kausar, president of Swechhashebok League, has been running the Dhaka Wanderers Club, while Jubo League [Dhaka South] Organizing Secretary Khaled Mahmud Bhuiyan has been running the Fakirapool Youngmen’s Club.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and police have raided these clubs over the last few days and found that they were illegal casinos.
Allegedly, they are also involved in match fixing.
However, sports organizers admitted to media that they had to run casinos and other gambling activities due to political pressure.
Crime in, sports out
Sports organizers and veteran players said bridge and housie were common but in a limited fashion, during Pakistan times when the sporting clubs first started.
Later on, there was gambling and a few clubs lost their glory.
Mubasshar Hussain, former Brothers Union FC president [1999-2001], and former Bangladesh Cricket Board [BCB] director, was one of the oldest sports organizers of the country. He has seen the fluctuation in the country’s sports.
Back then, some local politicians sold their wives’ ornaments, homes,and cars to finance these clubs since they were so invested and passionate about football or cricket. Some never even got married, he said.
Mubasshar said that he later ousted housie from Brothers Union.
“In our club, housie would be played every Saturday. The club would be leased out for the game for Tk3 lakh,” he said.
In 2000, one-ten (another card game) was played in every club, the sports organizer said, adding: “I observed, behind this shield [using the name of housie] one-ten was played instead. It was the biggest gambling thing of Bangladesh [sic], making people destitute.”
How sports became politicized
Mubasshar Hussain says the major changes in sporting clubs came during military regime by politicians.
“When these bad people come to politics, they bought ownership or position as chief of the club to gain political power,” he added.
Match fixing started with political influence, Mubasshar said.
“During my presidency, I saw a person in Brothers Union who was kept for fixing matches. In every club, there were match fixers,” he said.
A few sport organizers even left sports since it was politicized and Mizan Uddin was one of them.
After five years with the club, Mizan, a founding member of Muktijoddha Sangsad Krira Chakra, left in 1982 when politicians started using political clout during HM Ershad’s regime.
On leaving Muktijoddha Sangsad KC, Mizan said: “When political influence started taking over, I did not involve myself there.”
This club got involved in gambling over the course of the last 12 years, he said.