Bangladesh football fails to live up to dream

Azad Majumder and Sudipta Ananda | Published: 00:05, Jan 22,2018


Kazi Salahuddin, when he took the chair of Bangladesh Football Federation president for the first time in 2008, had promised to bring about positive changes to the country’s football which was already struggling for survival.
The domestic football had become irregular, fans had also started petering out from gallery and as a result sponsors were losing their interest in the game.
They all impacted the performance of national team, which slipped to 183 in FIFA ranking on April 7, 2008 - their lowest at that time.
Being the first elected BFF president, Salahuddin raised a great expectation because he had the mandate, experience and on top of that a personal charisma that drew thousands of fans to the gallery in his playing career.
True to his promise, Salahuddin brought in a sponsor, CityCell, which paid Tk 8.2 crore for two years and sponsored six tournaments, including two editions of professional league, two Federation Cups, one Independence Cup and one Super Cup, along with the national team.
He introduced the Super Cup with a prize money of Tk 1 crore, which brought the fans back to gallery. Football soon returned to life and fans were excited, believing it as a new dawn of Bangladesh football.
Ten years later, as Salahuddin was nearing completion of his third term, it proved to be only a false dawn.
The situation in football over the past 10 years hardly improved, rather worsened.
Many of the promises Salahuddin made remained unfulfilled as Bangladesh relegated from 183 to 197 in a decade in FIFA ranking in December, their new low, which kept them only ahead of the likes of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, US Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, San Marino, British Virgin Islands.
Bangladesh national team did not play a single international match in the past 15 months since their humiliating 1-3 loss to Bhutan in Asian Cup pre-qualifying match in October 2016.
They made an entry for AFC Solidarity Cup, a tournament meant for Asia’s fringe teams, but a thunder-struck Bangladesh pulled out their name immediately after the Bhutan loss, spurning an opportunity for their national team to move on.
Asian Football Confederation rubbed salt to the wound, penalising Bangladesh Football Federation $20,000 for late withdrawal.
There are many theories about how Bangladesh football came to this low and one problem commonly blamed is the inefficiency of Salahuddin-led BFF office bearers, who could not run any tournament the way it should.
Salahuddin’s brainchild Super Cup had gone out of football calendar after three irregular editions and the much-needed school football tournament was not held after 2012. The BFF abandoned the 2013 edition after completing matches in just two divisions as it failed to convince the sponsor to pay the promised money.
It recently took a fresh initiative of holding school football, but only with 53 schools when 4,800 schools had participated in the last complete edition in 2012.
The necessity of school football was evident in women’s football, which saved the faces of officials by bringing some successes at international level in recent months.
Most of the players, who qualified for the AFC Under-16 final round in 2016 and won the SAFF Under-15
tournament last year, came through Bangamata Gold Cup football, a tournament organised by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education.
The ministry also runs a tournament, Bangabandhu Cup, for primary school boys, but the BFF could not reap any benefit from it because men’s football was much more competitive compared with women’s football.
In order to nurture raw talents, the BFF had opened a football academy in Sylhet in 2015 but they closed down its operation after one year as the federation failed to ensure fund and could not convince the National Sports Council to lease out to it the facilities for 20 years.
Officials often claimed it was not the duty of the federation to produce talents as clubs took the responsibility in most other countries. But the BFF also failed to ensure that clubs did their jobs as it did not organise any age-level competition for them since 2014.
In fact, over the past 10 years, the age-level club competitions was held only twice — first in 2013 for Under-16 age group and then in 2014 for Under-18 age group.
As a consequence, the number of quality footballers fell greatly and this was exposed in the just-concluded Bangladesh Premier League football where 34 foreign players scored nearly 60 per cent of the goals.
Among the top-10 strikers, there is only one Bangladeshi, another example of how Bangladesh’s football is suffering from a lack of talent.
Zahid Hasan Ameli, who played as striker for Bangladesh national team in their last international match, scored his first goal in the league in more than two-and-a-half year and his league campaign ended with that goal.
While many sports in Bangladesh had been suffering from lack of fund, football hardly fell short of it as cash came in abundance for players in the league.
Tapu Barman, a national team defender, reportedly got Tk 60 lakh from his club this season, nearly double what Sakib al Hasan got from his club for cricket league.
The government often expressed its intent to provide budgetary support but for some reasons the federation could not receive any fund.
In June 2015, at the insistence of finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, Association of Bankers Bangladesh Limited agreed to provide the federation Tk 20 crore, but it could collect only Tk 8 crore from them.
In 2014, the government also allowed the federation to organise Football Development Lottery which, according to an official, generated Tk 1.2 crore, though the BFF never revealed how it had spent the sum.
In the last 10 years, a total of 18 coaches, including 11 foreigners, handled the national team but apart from Zoran Dordevic, who helped Bangladesh win gold medal in South Asian Games, none could produce any result.
While leaving Bangladesh, most of the foreign coaches recommended a certain change in the system but the BFF paid no heed.
Salahuddin in his second term unveiled an ambitious plan of Vision-2022 as he wanted a place for Bangladesh in Qatar World Cup but no initiative was taken in this direction.
With the tournament in Qatar just four years away, Bangladesh is now struggling to beat teams like Bhutan, which has made Salahuddin’s Vision-2022 a butt of all jokes.
Salahuddin was not available for comments despite repeated attempts while his deputy, BFFs senior vice-president Abdus Salam Murshedy, refused to make any comment about the Vision-2022.
According to Salam, their biggest success in the last 10 years was developing a professional structure, which benefited the players.
‘We regularised the league that helped the players earn lucrative amounts of money,’ said Salam, having failed to acknowledge that the handful players, who took the cream, could take Bangladesh nowhere but only to the bottom of world football.
The situation left the country’s former footballers also heartbroken.
‘When a role model like Salahuddin shows you a dream of playing in 2022 World Cup, you have to believe him,’ said former national player Golam Sarwar Tipu.
‘But what followed is just unfortunate. I personally do not believe in ranking. But when you see your national team slipping close to 200, it must give you pain. We all are now enduring this pain,’ he said. 

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