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How Bangladesh lost the World Cup

  • Published at 07:26 am July 17th, 2018
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Grounds of rebellion / MUMIT M

As fields disappeared, so did dreams

Watching Croatia lose in the final was a disappointment. 

In the same way the last US elections had seen the rise of the underdog in Bernie Sanders, who eventually lost out to Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump become American president, this World Cup had also been that which has broken free from the shackles of the status quo.

We saw Germany lose to South Korea and Mexico (and knocked out in the group stages), Argentina to Croatia, Portugal to Uruguay, Brazil to Belgium; there were draws between Brazil and Switzerland, and Japan went 2-0 up against Belgium only for Belgium to make a stunning comeback in the second half. 

This was a World Cup which provided us with one surprise after another, penalties in almost every match, with the introduction of VAR further fuelling the fire of controversy. 

But, for someone whose country was not participating in the World Cup, it was pure entertainment, and anyone who could appreciate the game, any game really, to some extent, could see the beauty in the unpredictability the World Cup presented. 

While not all underdogs are of the good kind (read: Donald Trump), there is pleasure to be had as a Bangladeshi in watching smaller, lesser known nations triumph against the footballing leaders. 

And though most of the country’s hearts were broken with the elimination of two-headed god that is Argentina and Brazil, one would bet good money that only the most elitist of football watchers (and childhood supporters of France) would find themselves not backing Croatia to lift the World Cup and make history.

Croatia, as a country, is younger than I am, and to see it succeed in such manner would evoke some emotion in any Bangladeshi, for we epitomize the underdog like no other. And all underdogs -- the marginalized, oppressed, underrepresented -- are united in their fight to topple the established nature of things. 

And so, when they lost, so did we. 

Fever dreams

During the World Cup, the streets are filled with people, caught up in the fever, who crave to have a football grace their feet. And in alleys, on the sides of roads, in whichever empty space available, we saw ad hoc games played with half-deflated footballs and makeshift goalposts built of imagination and sandals. 

Sport, in whatever form, is heartening to watch. In fact, there’s something rebellious about a match, be it football or cricket, being played on the streets. Though one cannot condone the dangers involved with such activity (considering the inhumane nature of our traffic), it is still a sight endearing: It reminds some of us of how we also ruled the streets, while grumpy curmudgeons yelled at us for being too loud while celebrating, or breaking their windows with our imagination-fuelled sixes and goals. 

What choice did we have, what choice do they have now, but to hold up traffic and break a few panes of glass, when there is no space the children of the street can call their own? 

Dhanmondi had a plethora of fields -- Abahani, Road 8, Road 4, Kalabagan -- and now they’ve been privatized, walls have been put up: You must pay, they indicate, and become members of some club or the other. 

And while the fact that these fields being used for cultural activities, such as when the Bengal Classical Fest was held last year, can be appreciated, there’s something heart-breaking about having to get “tickets” to enter what was essentially a public space.

No longer remain the days when one could just call up one’s friends with a football or a few cricketing stumps, put on their only pair of sneakers, and walk into a field like Abahani maath. Gone are those days when sport was an essential part of our upbringing as children. 

It was bad enough when we were children; now, such a space for children don’t even exist.

On your way to work today, or tomorrow, or the day after, you might still see a few groups here and there blocking your way with one of their games, burning with the leftover fever of this year’s World Cup. 

But the symptoms won’t last, the foot itching to kick will find respite, once again, in a pair of sandals which had once stood tall as goalposts. 

Football will be put on a shelf again for four more years, and the children will return to their routines: Go to school, meet friends at a restaurant, have cigarettes at a tea stall, come home, and play with their phones (and we wonder why our sports teams fail to find talent). 

Nostalgia might play a part in romanticizing the games we used to play, but their eventual elimination from daily life was a true loss, especially for our children.

And so, when they lost, so did we. 

SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.