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OP-ED: A case for Bangladesh’s sports

  • Published at 03:59 am July 29th, 2021
Bangladesh Olympics
Bangladesh's Ruman Shana participates in archery at the Tokyo Olympics REUTERS

We should set our sights on such heights of grandeur as the Olympics

A half century into independent nationhood, one of the priorities in policy-making should be the country’s sports sector and the measures needed to bring about meaningful development in the sector. Bangladesh’s people have always been sports enthusiasts, be it football or any other game. The overall national interest we have observed over the past two decades in cricket is a hint, to a point where we have seen the nation’s cricket making rapid strides on a global level. 

There have of course been the shortcomings, the stumbling blocks that have often impeded progress in the game, but that cricket holds good promise today for Bangladesh is beyond question.

Speaking of our interest in sports, the spontaneity with which football aficionados in the country kept tabs on the recent Euro Games is reflective of how strong an appeal football retains in our clime. For decades, in Bangladesh football has been part of life. Generations have grown to adulthood hearing of or watching such teams as Mohammedan, Abahani, Dhaka Wanderers, Brothers Union, and others demonstrating their prowess on a regular basis at Dhaka Stadium, both the inner one and the erstwhile outer one. 

And yet we in Bangladesh have not quite been able to attain the standards which we have always expected to reach. If only our sports arena had been developed to our expectations, we would not be complaining today. With the Tokyo Olympics going on, with all those participating nations winning gold, silver and bronze or simply competing in the various game categories, the question we have before us is simple: Why have we been unable to turn our sports, all modes of them, into energy that could have ensured our participation at international events? 

We do have a Ministry of Sports. We do have all those ubiquitous sports organizations. And we are given the impression that all is well with our sports. Well, all is not well. Take a look at our football again. In the past two decades and more, it has taken a backseat to cricket. That is tragic, for when a society adopts a new game and just as quickly discards a sport with which it has traditionally been associated, it says something about the needed focus on sports not being there.

Yes, in this half century since we emerged into freedom, many have been the travails we have endured. Our history was upended in the dark years between 1975 and 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006. We have been battered with nature’s fury; we have battled poverty and issues of public health. Our garments sector and our hard-working fellow citizens employed in foreign countries have been driving forces in keeping the national economy going. 

We have struck back hard at religious militancy; and we have provided a safe haven to the Rohingya refugees fleeing their homeland. Our trade relations with our neighbours and other nations have been satisfactory, though much more could be done here. 

But even as we sit back in the glib thought that everything is going well, we cannot but remember the grip corruption, at a multiplicity of levels, has on our society. That our education has been slipping, that we have not been producing the best of men and women at our universities, that our civil service is a study in mediocrity, that there are the democratic freedoms we crave, the dignity of the individual we must establish as a societal underpinning, the rule of law that must underline the goals we set for ourselves 50 years ago are truths we cannot brush aside or look away from. The re-invention of society must begin at some point. Let that point, for starters, be our sports arena.

When a nation does not in a half century step out on to the field of global sports, it is a sad commentary on its performance as an independent entity. This condition calls for correction. We can begin by making the emphatic suggestion that if our sports are to make a mark in the world, the goals associated with games cannot but be set by people who understand sports, who have been sports people, who know how to draw up strategies for training our young in the variety of games that have been part of our heritage. 

Bureaucracy is a deterrent to progress in sports, which is another way of saying that sports ought to have the autonomy they need to expand into a meaningful representation of the nation abroad. All across this land, thousands of young men and women from humble families, talented beyond question in sports, wait to be called -- to enrich our cricket, football, swimming, cycling, wrestling, athletics, tennis, badminton, and everything else with their untapped talent. 

And that talent can only be spotted and made to blossom when sports are freed of bureaucratic control. And there is that other, pernicious control. It is partisan politics. It is a big mistake when politicians or individuals with political connections are entrusted with the responsibility of administering sports in the country. If we mean our sports to look to a future, with global ambitions, the bureaucrats and politicians who are at the helm today must simply step aside. 

Their vacant places will need to be filled by sports people -- former players who will not only be coaches for the various national teams, but also responsible for shaping long-term national sports objectives. Comprehensive sports programs, on a nationwide scale, are the requirement in our schools, colleges, and universities in the rural as well as urban regions of the country.

The goal must be a journey into the global arena, a stepping stone to which must be enhanced allocation for sports in the national budget along with periodic assessments of the progress made. Why should our footballers not look to taking part in future World Cup tournaments? Given the right emphasis, focused and purposeful, we should set our sights on such heights of grandeur as the Olympics. 

We would like to see our boys and girls come home, emblazoned in glory, with gold and silver and bronze, indeed with dignity from international sporting events. We would like our national anthem to be played in the brightly lit, filled to capacity stadiums of the world.

As we cheer Argentina and Brazil in football, as we count the medals collected by nations beyond ours at the Olympics every four years, let us do something more -- dream of Bangladesh’s future in the global sports arena and move on, for the dream to be given substance and form.

A half century after liberation, we need to step out into the world with our sportsmen and sportswomen.

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist and biographer.

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