Mashrafe Mortaza’s Tigers in red-and-green have given Bangladesh much to celebrate this summer of 2015. Back-to-back ODI series wins against Pakistan, India, and South Africa are like a dream script of sporting success that will make any new cricket-playing nation proud. Reaching the World Cup quarterfinals before that, also proved the Tigers are not exactly foxes abroad — they fight like Tigers wherever they play, and go down fighting if not securing a win. After 2015, no cricketing nation will take Bangladesh lightly.
But there is a lurking danger in the way cricket has emerged as the national sport of choice for Bangladesh. The success of Mashrafe Mortaza’s team will surely dwarf all other sports and those who play it in the country of 160 million.
Would the country care to remember shooter Asif Hossain Khan who won a Commonwealth gold in 10 metre air rifle shooting, or a promising archer like Emdadul Haque Milon, or the tennis team that took Bangladesh to the semi-finals of the Davis Cup (Asia/Oceania Zone) in 1989?
Brojen Das, who swam the English channel four times and was the only Asian to be named King of the Channel, is a forgotten name in the country today.
The key question here is whether success in cricket will take away money from all other sports, both in terms of government funding as well as private sector advertising/sponsorship, making Bangladesh a cricket-centric nation! In other words: a one-sport nation. Will all coal only go to Newcastle?
The wild celebrations over the cricket victories is actually a good time to raise the issue of Bangladesh needing a comprehensive sports policy, which will help focus the nation’s energies into some other sports. This can be especially where Bangladesh has the potential to develop world class sportspeople.
The argument I am trying to make is that Bangladesh should follow China, and not India, in its sports policy. In India, the craze for cricket has killed interest — and money — in most other sports, and spawned a culture of crooks that reduced cricket to crass commerce and produced the likes of Lalit Modi and Srinivasan who bring nothing but infamy to the game.
If the Indian experience is any pointer for neighbour Bangladesh, it is a simple message — don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If all the money, including the bad and the black, goes to cricket, it will become a playground for the crooks and not just the cricketers. And cricketers may also end up as crooks, as some have in India.
Thankfully, in India, we have had world champions like Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand in badminton, and now Saina Nehwal and P. Sindhu as well. Or even Sania Mirza and Leander Paes in tennis, who have won Grand Slams in doubles with foreign partners. We have produced the occasional Olympic shooting champion like Abhinav Bindra or R.S. Rathore.
But for a one billion plus population, this is peanuts. A drop in the ocean. This is actually a disgrace, and I imagine one reason is that we focus totally on cricket as both sport and past-time.
China tops the medals tally in Olympics after Olympics since the enforced seclusion during the Maoist era. It has a comprehensive sports policy with a focus on developing all Olympic sports. The fact that China has not taken to cricket, for whatever reason, does nothing to belittle its sporting prowess in the world.
For Bangladesh, therefore, it is time to be introspective and choose the right model. The country’s progress in social and human development and its growing economy takes Bangladesh to a take-off stage as far as sports is concerned. Bangladesh needs an inclusive sports policy, not an elitist one based on a one-sport model centred around cricket.
This is not to take away any credit for the Soumya Sarkars and the Mustafizur Rahmans, the Shakibs and Mahmudullahs. They have given the country a real ‘feel-good factor’ after months of vicious political turmoil, grisly deaths in petrol bombings, and the murder of secular bloggers. But it would be great if Bangladesh could spot a champion swimmer from villages around its big rivers and train them to bring home an Olympic Gold, by the time it becomes an upper-middle income country by the end of this decade. Only then would the dream of 1971 be fulfilled.
Subir Bhaumik is a senior editor with bdnews24.com.