• Monday, Sep 24, 2018
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Take Asian Games lessons, or risk falling behind

  • Published at 01:49 am September 2nd, 2018
Asiad
Bangladesh contingent, led by flag-bearer Mabia Akter Shimanta, during the opening ceremony of the Asian Games in Jakarta in August AFP

This article was published in the September issue of Sports Tribune Magazine

Every four years, after the end of almost each of Bangladesh’s Asian Games campaign, words were expressed of not having enough preparation, lack of facilities and insufficient infrastructures back home. These reasons are cited by the country’s top athletes of the respective events after sorry displays at Asia’s biggest multi-sports event.

Things haven’t changed much in Indonesia, as, this time around, those familiar explanations were repeated by the respective athletes and officials much earlier before the Games concluded; due to end of Bangladesh’s hope to bag at least a medal from 14 disciplines they took part in and being almost done by the halfway stage of the mega event.  

And this is also the first time in 32 years that Bangladesh athletes returned home without a single medal, due to the country’s national sports failing to cope up with the new rules and offer challenges to the new powerhouses in the modern kabaddi world.

All those discussions of what to do and what not to do are likely to be forgotten as soon as south Asia’s biggest football event, the Saff Championship, starts in Dhaka this week.

With the South Asian Games scheduled to take place in Nepal in March next year, the Bangladesh Olympic Association and the respective sports federations realistically don’t have much time to assess their Asiad performance, take lessons from there and implement those effectively in order to get the best out of the region’s biggest multi-sports event.

What the first thing every federation with medal-winning past must do, with support from the BOA and the sponsors, is to start the training camps immediately at home and send their best athletes to the modern academies abroad.

Infrastructural issues are related to big budget and long-term planning, but it’s sad to say even kabaddi doesn’t have much modern values and at least seven sports federations have their common home venue in the capital under the same roof of the National Sports Council gymnasium. 

The other vital initiatives should be given more importance, like bringing in qualified coaches, ensuring minimum modern facilities, arranging domestic tournaments and participating in as many international competitions as they can afford.

The best places where they can take the Asiad lessons to the SA Games are from the improved performances of disciplines like football, hockey and archery, especially from the young booters of the Olympic football team, who fought bravely against all those higher-ranked opponents to make it to the knockout stage for the first ever time in history.  

But it was the same men’s football discipline that was excluded from the BOA’s preliminary list for the Asiad, before they included it two months later while finalising the disciplines in February.

The football federation began residential training camp from the same month, arranged specialised camps in Qatar and South Korea, along with a friendly against Laos and practice matches against local clubs from Thailand, South Korea and Qatar, and appointed foreign assistant and fitness coach, alongside English head coach Jamie Day. 

That is why they could see the results of their efforts in Indonesia. The hockey federation arranged almost similar initiatives, although a bit later. 

Their 10 practice matches in India and South Korea under the guidance of Malaysian head coachGobinathan Krishnamurthy proved to be handy that was reflected during their games, especially against rival  Oman, at their Asiad campaign where they secured top-six finish for the first time since their sixth-place finish at the debut appearance in 1978.

Only long-term camp at home is not enough, which was seen from the kabaddi federation’s effort in arranging a six-month residential camp. The federation was tangled with internal affairs in the last few years, and there were no proper plans to pick the best players from the root level. 

They had not taken part in any international competition in two years and also failed to arrange any friendly or practice match prior to the Asiad. Thus they faced formidable opponents and an unusual situation in Indonesia, and returned home without a medal for the first time since kabaddi’s inclusion at the Asiad in 1990.

The differences of long-term and year-long training camp varied on the requirement of the respective sports. Not more than seven sports, including cricket and football, have been involved in a national camp for at least three months and more. 

The others sports among the selected 14 disciplines for the Asiad began their camp after the BOA’s initiatives one and a half months prior to the Games’ opening. Among the individual events, only archery and shooting federations arranged long-term preparation opportunities for its participants, along with sealing long-term deals with qualified foreign coaches.

Abdullah Hel Baki, who won silver at the Commonwealth Games four months ago, couldn’t improve much, but Shakil Ahmed, along with some young shooters, made notable improvements in their respective events. 

Archery’s achievement was more significant as its mixed team reached the quarter-final for the first ever time after one of the team members, Mohammad Ruman Shana, was placed third in the ranking round of the recurve individual event, and showed consistency till his exit from the pre-quarterfinal.

Rarely any athletes from most of the other individual events got even less than half the facilities, tournament experience and preparation time like the respective archers and shooters. And apart from the disciplines mentioned above, majority of the other teams at Asiad had no professional coach who accompanied them in Jakarta and Palembang.

The two swimmers were accompanied with no coach, complained about lack of facility and preparation, and thus finished among the bottom of the list. The swimming federation arranged a long-term camp for young swimmers under South Korean coach Park tae-Gun, whose first year of the three-year contract ended in March and was not renewed by the federation since then.

Athletics, weightlifting and wrestling were accompanied with local coaches but none of them are worth mentionable, and the length of their preparation was not more than two months. Bangladesh’s lone female athlete Sumi Akter however, managed to break her personal best in both the 400m and 800m event, but still, it was not enough for a medal at the SA Games.  

Indian national athletics champion Dutee Chand took 11.88s to win bronze in the 100m sprint in the last SA Games two years ago, before her 11.69s timing at the Rio Olympics the same year. Since then, she was continuously sponsored by a corporate house and nurtured by the government to concentrate more on her event at the modern training base in Hyderabad. The Bangla-speaking athlete from Odisha repaid the faith with a historic silver in the same event at the latest Asiad.

On the other hand, sprinter Sumi, weightlifter Mabia Akter Shimanta and swimmer Khadiza Akter do not know when their preparation for SA Games would begin.

The 16-year old Khadiza clocked 39.57s and 1:27.20s in the 50m and 100m breaststroke respectively at the Asiad while Mahfuza Khatun clocked 34.88s and 1:17.86s to win gold in the same events of the last-edition’s SA Games. How can she be expected to reduce this gap in only six months?

Looking back to the Asiad and looking forward to the SA Games, the BOA and the respective federations must have realised now that there is no alternative to long-term training programme, hiring quality coaches and regular participation in international competitions if they seek improvements and big results at the mega events. 

Priority should also be given to those particular events where Bangladesh are good at and won medals in the past. These are the basic differences between the countries who win medals at the Asiad or Olympics and countries like Bangladesh who don’t.

Bangladesh won 18 golds at the 2010 SA Games in Dhaka while the number was reduced to only four in the following edition in Guwahati and Shillong, India in 2016. Bangladesh are likely to graduate from the least developed country category to developing country by the time the next Asiad 2022 is held in China. 

But the economical growth has barely left any reflection in the country’s sports scenario, which is only falling behind day by day in terms of performance in the regional and continental sports events. Will we take lessons from the past, or continue falling behind?