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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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A Brouhaha In Bangladesh

A recent incident highlighted the unique position occupied by international sport, as well as the perils of such status. As part of the Cricket World Cup, Bangladesh hosted the West Indies, and got thumped.

As any follower of cricket would know; so far, so predictable. This was not a case of a team struggling valiantly only to be denied by a superior opponent. This was more akin to a bullfight, you know, the ‘sport’ where a bull is always stabbed to death. Always.

The interesting part happened afterwards. A bunch of Bangladeshi cricket fans surrounded the West Indies’ bus and began to throw rocks at it. Then they realised they had got the wrong bus, and moved on to stoning their own team. Of course, there has been much outrage at this in official circles, and the suitability of Bangladesh as a host has been called into question. However, if you look at the wider context of Bangladeshi cricket, I think you’ll find that this was an entirely expected, and unlikely to be repeated, response from the frustrated fans.
Allow me to qualify this statement with a history lesson. Bangladesh has only existed as a nation since 1971. Previously the country had been governed by both India and Pakistan, and only gained independence from the latter after a brutal civil war. The country is dirt poor, ranking 129th on the UN’s Human Development Index. There isn’t an awful lot to look forward to.

But what does this have to do with sport? All countries need to feel like they have something that they can do as well as any other, it’s an integral part of any national psyche. The sporting examples are endless; Brazil and their worship of football, our obsession with rugby, the twisted brainchild of English aristocrats. In Bangladesh, as it is in India and Pakistan, that sport is cricket.

At the opening ceremony of the World Cup at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka 25,000 people crammed the stadium, with that many again celebrating outside the gates. This was, as they say, a big deal.

The problem is, Bangladesh isn’t actually very good at cricket, given the level they play at. In 2000, they were granted entry to the top tier of cricket playing nations, and have struggled ever since. Fans have endured a full decade of looking for a positive perspective on constant losing. Recently though, the situation has been improving. They gave our boys a damn good thrashing last year, and hopes were high that Bangladesh could make an impression at this World Cup. When it comes down to it, the most important attribute in sport is pride and a hunger to win, and the fans thought they were finally seeing that.

Until the match against the West Indies. The Bangladeshis played meek, pathetic cricket, and lost accordingly. To the fans, it must have appeared that their team had given up their pride, and given how closely linked cricket is to national identity, the humiliation would have been severe. All the progress the national team had made in comparison to their rivals India and Pakistan had been erased by one of the most abject collapses in cricket history.

A common misconception of sports fans is that they only care about results. The reality is that they want to see their team fight to the death, to reward the passion they put in with a worthy display. This was not good enough, and the anger of the fans manifested itself. Was it justified? Probably not, it was still mob violence, and the West Indians were rightly shocked to be caught up in it. Still, at the very least we can understand why it happened, and why it is likely to be a unique event, as the ultimate low point of Bangladeshi cricket.

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