A widely circulated Bengali daily had a very thought-provoking piece on how a lot of young people, infused with the dream of becoming a top-level cricketer, are choosing sports as a career.
However, the article cautions that sports should be taken up not to the detriment of education. This got me thinking about all those young footballers who once played with me on the Dhaka University field, their lives and aspirations, at that time, surrounding football.
If today youngsters from all spheres of society are seriously thinking about taking up cricket as a livelihood, then, about 20 years ago, the game of preference was football.
The only difference is that now, with Bangladesh placed respectably among the top cricket-playing nations, youngsters from educated backgrounds, both boys and girls, are taking a keen interest in attaining sporting excellence.
But how lucrative is sport as a career?
First, it would be wrong to simply base our argument around cricket.
Yes, this is now the most popular sport, but there are many sportsmen for whom hockey, handball, and even badminton are the main sources of livelihood. To be honest, if cricket provides the lure of fast money and fame, the others often give us very dismal pictures.
For others it’s a struggle.
Hanging out at the DU gymnasium field regularly has given me the chance to meet athletes from different disciplines. Take Amir for instance: He comes from an Old Dhaka school in Armanitola which has a name for supplying hockey players to the national league. Amir showed talent early on and, after his SSCs, was roped in by a mid-level first division hockey team.
Vacillating between love for the game plus attraction of quick money and regular academic life, he chose the former, and education slowly slid into oblivion.
Consequently, Amir became a hockey player. The problem was that, while he always managed a spot in a mid-ranking team, ultimate success and a place in the national squad eluded him.
In a few years, faced with acute resource shortage, hockey in general was battling to survive. Teams curtailed costs -- Amir, already beyond 30, was asked to either leave or play for a pittance.
Faced with such a scenario, his lack of education came back to haunt him because, even if he wanted to be a coach for a small second division side, he needed the basic academic degrees.
Amir is not an isolated case. Off the top of my head I can recall Mamun, who played for Farashganj in the Premier League, Alam for Muktijoddha, Kalu for Kosaituli, Arif for Rahmatganj, and a host of others who never made it to the top tier of the game.
These players, driven by the passion for sport, sidelined education only to face a tough prospect in their mid-30s.
When we look at a national player, we not only see sporting success but a constant flow of money, prestige, fame, and huge fan following. However, not everyone will make it to the final 11
Not desperate but could be better
Such players who played in the middle levels and eventually left the game to earn a living are not on the streets but many lament that if they had completed a certain level of education then they could have taken coaching certificates to earn more by being associated with the game.
Take Zulfiker Mahmud Mintu for instance. Mintu was one of the star players to come out of BKSP in the early 90s. By 18-19, he was a lynchpin of the top club, Abahani, and a national team mainstay.
However, Mintu was also a student of DU. Unlike many others who decided to marginalise education, Mintu diligently finished his Master’s, played for a few more years, received an injury, and, finally, hung his boots.
Instead of starting a small business for survival, he went for further education taking the FIFA licence for coaching and, buffed by his university degree, is now linked to a top level football club as an assistant coach.
There is a monthly salary, respect among social circles, plus free foreign trips. Not a bad post at all.
The same goes for several other footballers who netted management positions in clubs and age-based national teams because they did not neglect education.
None of them studied high-brow subjects like physics or statistics, but they finished their academic discipline, receiving the much-valued certificate.
Not everyone will make the national cricket team
With cricket frenzy taking over our lives, the desire of the age is to become a national team player.
When we look at a national player, we not only see sporting success but a constant flow of money, prestige, fame, and a huge fan following.
However, not everyone will make it to the final 11. For the one who goes on to don the red and green shirt, there will be hundreds who will have to remain satisfied by playing in clubs at different divisions.
Take a top batsman from the second division league -- he is successful in his own domain, earns a handsome amount regularly, and is possibly a college or university student, or maybe a drop out.
If he belongs to the last category, there is reason to worry because, one day, the playing career in the second division will be over and he will have to face harsh reality.
In such a case, those with a degree from a college will be able to compete for a management post in one of the clubs.
Those without, sadly, will have to struggle.
Many such former players went into small business. I know some who have opened restaurants selling desi food, while others dabble with a variety of short-term businesses.
All of them would have loved to remain attached to the game in some management capacity, but could not simply because they cut off the academic side.
So, my advice, after years of looking at former players, would be: Give the best in your game, but get a college degree, irrespective of the institution and location.
Never forget, in Bangladesh, the question before marriage still remains, even if someone is financially solvent, “chele kii paash?” (what is the academic qualification of the prospective groom?)
Towheed Feroze is a journalist currently working in the development sector.