ONE may or may not like cricket — not the worm, but the game — or even could be someone like a typical Frenchman or woman who does not understand the game, or pretends he/she does not have any clues as to what British men (and now women too) do with a ball, two bats, and six sticks, inserted into the ground — set of three on each side of the field — for five days or one whole day, normally when the sun is unbearable. I am someone who used to watch the game live on cricket grounds, especially in my younger days in Australia and was fascinated by Imran Khan, Javed Miandad (Australians used to call him ‘Me and Dad Together’, hence unbeatable!), Mudassar Nazar, Abdul Qadir, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Dennis Lillee, Rodney Marsh, Kim Hughes, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Deb, and Ravi Shastri, among others. And, I now enjoy the game only in the comfort of my living room, reclining on my favourite rocking chair. I have nothing in favour or against the game but the craze for cricket in Bangladesh, at the government level, and among my fellow Bangladeshis at home and abroad; ever since Bangladesh started playing this ‘game of lords’ against the handful cricket-playing nations in the world, I have virtually stopped watching the game when Bangladesh is playing against any team.
There are two reasons for my doing so. Firstly, I do not enjoy our boys being beaten up so mercilessly by more competent and physically fit players from other teams and, secondly, when by any stroke of the luck Bangladesh wins, I get extremely irritated by the reaction of our government, media, and the crazy Bangladeshi fans as if their country has achieved something which no other country can ever or has achieved in history. To me, this wild behaviour smacks of our collective inferiority complex and an escape from the misery of day-to-day life in Bangladesh. Governments often promote sports to generate national pride and as a digression from the harsh reality of life in countries, which are least democratic and authoritarian by nature. The erstwhile Soviet Union is a glaring example in this regard.
A few years back, after football had already died out in Bangladesh in the 1980s, Bangladeshis started supporting football teams from Brazil, Argentina, Germany and even Cameroon. This craze reaches its peak every four years when football teams from various countries (not Bangladesh or anyone from South Asia) compete against each other for the World Cup. As the media report, Bangladeshi fans of Brazil and Argentina literally fight each other. And unbelievably, this craze in Bangladesh often leads to fatal heart attacks and even suicides among fans after the loss of their favourite teams. I recall reading a news item about a rural Bangladeshi woman’s committing suicide after Cameroon had lost a match in the 1990s. Ever since Bangladesh started playing much better cricket than ever before, I surmise, the Bengali craze for World Cup football is shifting towards international cricket. The government in the past 10 years has spent tons of money on promoting cricket and cricketers, especially those having an interest in national politics. However, nobody knows how much has been spent or how much is in the pipeline, for cricket, as nothing is publicly or precisely known about government spending, pilferage or plundering of wealth in the public or the private sector, possibly because precision is something very alien to us, or there might be some other reasons.
Here I raise three questions, which are pertinent to cricket and craze for the game in Bangladesh: (a) the promotion of the game at the state level which is a costly endeavour for poor Bangladesh, (b) the craze for the game across the country, and (c) the gracelessness of cricket fans and the media which smacks of the collective inferiority complex, arrogance, and the denial syndrome of the Bangladesh society at large.
Bangladeshis are very, very bad losers, and do not know how to respect their adversaries/rivals in sports, politics, or warfare. After Afghanistan had defeated Bangladesh in the last cricket Test this week, none of the Bangladeshi dailies congratulated the Afghan team or captioned ‘Bangladesh’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Afghanistan’ or ‘Bangladesh Lost’/‘Afghans Won’. Instead, Bangladeshi media came up with headlines like: ‘We need better players: Sakib’; ‘Sakib should rather step down as captain’. One needs to read the whole news report to find out the outcome of the match, which Bangladesh lost badly to Afghanistan. There is no sportsmanship, which is essential in life, which about accepting reality, be humble, and respect others. When Bangladesh wins, newspapers caption: ‘Bangladesh shatter X’/ ‘Bangladesh crush Y’. How silly and ridiculous!
I believe Bangladeshis’ craze for sports — their being not globally or regionally known as proficient sportsmen/women or players — have something to do with the perpetual state of boredom tjat they live within traffic-clogged cities; lack of affordable entertainment for ordinary people in rural and urban areas, and plenty of leisure for around 40 per cent of the youth who are unemployed and even for those who are engaged in full-time work in the public sector, including bureaucracy, college/university teaching and government-run corporations. No wonder, this writer recalls his colleagues at Dhaka University watching live cricket matches on television (especially installed during World Cup Cricket events) in the arts building teachers’ lounge during working hours. He also witnessed some top bureaucrats doing the same during office hours in the secretariat. However, besides boredom and leisure, there must be explanations for this weird behaviour, when cricket matches between India and Pakistan, or Australia and England, for example, becomes much more important than teaching or regular office work. One wonders if this craze for cricket may be imputed to the collective trait of ‘unaccountability’ and ‘dereliction of duty’ among powerful and influential people (in their own domains) in Bangladesh!
As Noam Chomsky has beautifully put it, most of the public may not even be aware of the propaganda system that their governments and the media are executing in promoting sports. He has given the example of NFL (National Football League) in the US, which billionaires control to make money. Most importantly, he has singled out the real reason as to how governments and the media use sports as very effective tools of propaganda to divert people’s attention from real issues and problems. They simply ‘get them away’. Chomsky thinks to make people loyal to their own teams by turning them into robotics or mindless, who become more than willing to do ‘irrational submission’ to authority through loyalty, love, and devotion to their respective teams as a group of blind supporters. As if there are no other mundane problems to pay attention to.
It is time the Bangladesh government spent money on education — at least 10–15 per cent of the gross domestic product — instead of spending millions on sports. Let private corporations and individuals promote sports. There is no need to have a separate ministry of sports to squander public money. Meanwhile, thanks to partisan ‘politics and patriotism’, there are at least two variants of these syndromes, Bangali and Bangladeshi, that have already destroyed the education system while Bangladesh produces three different types of graduates, Bengali-, English-, and madrassah-educated, and most of them remain unemployable. In sum, Bangladeshis must realise: (a) there is no room for promoting their national cricket or any sporting team with taxpayers’ money; (b) they should not become robotic, cheering crowd of those who turn them into crazy sport-lovers to ‘get them away’ from real issues, as Chomsky has pointed out. Last but not least, jingoism in the name of cricket is anything but obnoxious. The media and cricket fans must not be devoid of grace and respect for others. These are essential qualities for democracy and good governance.
Dr Taj Hashmi is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Austin Peay State University in the United States. He is a historian, author, and analyst of global current affairs.
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