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If we build it, they will come

  • Published at 12:41 am June 25th, 2018
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Can we hope to see our flag flying along with the others someday? SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Every World Cup we find ourselves rooting for some other country -- but what about Bangladesh?

My introduction to football was through the Brazilian player Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima during the 1990s. My brothers were huge fans of him. I was a little girl back then, and was barely able to say his name properly.

My father passed away in 1999, an event that launched our family into something of a crisis, causing my brothers to lose their passion for football. Now they are both financially stable individuals, but I’m not sure whether football thrills them as it once did.

There were not many television sets in the sleepy, rural town of Mymensingh, where I attended school, certainly not in our home. I don’t believe there was a proper football field either. Yet, East Dapunia was always gripped with football fever. Every year they used to organize amateur league football tournaments where teams from various villages participated. 

The FIFA World Cup is considered to be the biggest show in the world, with Russia being the host nation this year. Scrolling through my social network feed, it appears that everybody and their grandma is excited about the World Cup this year. Which brings us to the age-old Bangladeshi tradition of Argentina and Brazilian supporters locking horns over which team is going to win -- which sometimes leads to bloodshed, believe it or not.

Once upon a time, a football match between local teams Abahani and Mohammedan seemed like an event worthy of celebration for supporters, with matches played at the Bangabandhu Stadium -- you could hardly have found an empty seat in the galleries.

What went wrong?

The Bangladeshi football team has never played in the FIFA World Cup, of course, but what exactly led to the steady decline in our passion for football, at least in the context of our local teams?

Is it our relatively newfound love for cricket that is responsible for the poor state of affairs of football in the country? Are our football players not physically fit to play this game of stamina? Perhaps our society is still so unsportsmanlike that it is next to impossible to promote a game like football? 

These and many other questions come to my mind, which become all the more pressing during the World Cup, when it becomes evident that, while the whole nation is spending sleepless nights watching match after match, we feel compelled to cheer for the victory of some other nation and not Bangladesh.

It’s not like we don’t know how to play football. Of course we do. There are many villages where football clubs are very active. We also see many domestic football championships being held. It’s possible that football might become more popular with the establishment of a new football league championship modeled after the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), a popular cricket league tournament.

But can a commercial venture such as this lead to the creation of a truly world class national football team? There is not much reason for optimism, to be honest.

While the formation of a national league might allow players to earn more money, this will not necessarily make them world class players, fit to compete with other nations. While we have been represented in certain football tournaments such as the SAF games, this competition has not really produced many players worthy of international fame.

Do Bangladeshi players lack the dexterity and agility needed to be world class players? I believe that is a more valid question. Cricket does not require the kind of stamina and resilience that football does. This makes cricket more of a game of strength, which does not necessarily require someone to be physically fit, as we all know.

Every World Cup we are reminded of our limitations in sports, some of which may be inherent. But there are still many avenues we can work on to improve on this front. To encourage the younger generations to consider a career in football, we need every locality to make spaces for a sporting field.

Schools need to introduce proper nutrition charts for junior football teams, and we must ensure a corruption-free football association. It’s not entirely unreasonable to dream of seeing Bangladesh playing the World Cup one day, and every dream starts with a small step.

Rahnuma Sultana is a freelance contributor.