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    Volume 11 |Issue 31| August 03, 2012 |


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The Olympic Dream

Bangladesh holds the dubious distinction of being the largest country in the world not to have won an Olympic medal. With the rest of the sports eclipsed due to the growth of cricket, one wonders if our Olympic dream can ever come true.

Naimul Karim

Fireworks ignite over the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photo: AFP

It was the 31st of July in the year 2002 and Asif Hossain Khan was heading towards the shooting gallery in Manchester to take his final shot of the day. Ranked fifth, Asif was hoping to make one last attempt for the bronze medal and perhaps leave the Commonwealth games on a high. What happened next surprised everybody; especially the Bangladeshi contingent present at the arena. Asif, who was only fifteen years old back then, scored a 9.9 with his last shot and took his over all score way above the rest of the shooters!

It wasn't just Abhinav Bindra, the Indian shooter who was the favourite to win gold or the rousing group of Bangladeshi supporters who were shocked by Asif's performance; the shooter himself couldn't believe it. In fact he initially thought it was a computer glitch. It was only when he received the medal at the podium, with the national anthem playing in the background, did he realise the extent of his achievement.

Ten years on and things have changed drastically. Asif's career followed a path similar to many other aspiring young athletes in this country, a downward trend. Despite having aced a few other tournaments following the emphatic Commonwealth victory, the shooter failed to successfully compete at an international level and couldn't fare well at the Olympics. While realists often dismiss Asif's victory in Manchester as a one-time affair and claim that the shooter was highly overrated, a mere comparison with Bindra, who lost the pole position to Asif that year, reveals the pinnacles that the Bangladeshi shooter could have achieved, had he been trained properly.

The Punjab-based shooter finished seventh at Athens and then went on to win the 'pairs championship' in the Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne in 2006. Bindra then achieved the highest honour by winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Asif, on the other hand, saw his career decline steadily. From being outranked in local tournaments to being beaten up by the police in 2006 following a trivial argument, the shooter has been going through a rough patch ever since. Unable to concentrate on his career, Asif pulled out of the 2012 Olympic Games training camp last year and joined the Bangladesh Krira Shikkha Protisthan (BKSP) as a shooting coach. Sporting pundits have termed the move as the end of the young shooter's career.

The Commonwealth gold medalist has consistently criticised the lack of training facilities and support available for shooting. It's a sport that continues to lie in the 'shadow of cricket' he said in a recent interview. With Bangladesh's woeful run in the Olympics, Asif's judgment perhaps hits the nail at the right spot. The country's athletes hold an embarrassing record of never qualifying for the Olympics. It's only due to the 'Wild Card' system—introduced by the Olympics committee to encourage global participation— that Bangladesh has been able to send its athletes.

Bangladesh's flagbearer Rahman Mahfizur (C) leads his delegation at the Olympic Stadium in London.
Photo: AFP

The dearth of competitive athletes is a statistic that was reflected in the 19th Commonwealth games as well, when the 79-member Bangladeshi contingent returned with a mere bronze medal. The tournament saw participants from smaller countries win medals and fare much better. The Asian Games held in China in the same year, saw the country scrape through with three medals, thanks to the inclusion of cricket.

Several athletes, including Asif, have appealed for world-class coaches. The absence of long-term planning is another aspect that has deteriorated the level of competition. Majority of the athletes begin training just months before a tournament, which is something unacceptable. Professional coaches abroad train their athletes with an aim to win gold in the next Olympics; such kind of fervour, however, is missing in our sporting arena.

The lack of funding of course is another issue. Take for example the case of the four female shooters who were sent to the United Kingdom two months before the Olympics for special training. The training camp had to be jointly funded by the Bangladesh Olympic Association, the British Government and other British organisations. Sharmin Hossain Ratna, who was ranked an impressive 27th out of the 50 odd participants in the recently concluded 10 m Air Rifle event at the London Olympics, was a member of this training camp. One wonders as to how she would have performed had she been trained for a longer period of time.

Another embarrassing trend that needs to be changed is then umber of officials who tag along with athletes and view these competitions as an excuse to go holidaying. It has almost become a tradition! Reports suggest that influential members frequently travel with athletes, coaches and doctors in the pretext of made-up positions.

Take for instance the four-member contingent that went to the UK for special training. The Director General of the BOA went along with the team on the pretext of 'ensuring their wellbeing'. The media criticised the move as the contingent was already struggling to gather enough money for the camp.

It is a well known fact that the sporting arena in Bangladesh needs to change by a large degree. From the lack of funds and improper training mechanisms to corrupt officials, the sector suffers from a wide array of problems. For a country that witnesses packed stadiums and leaves no pages unturned while hosting any major international tournament, it's a pity that our Olympic dream is still many miles away. One hopes that the new wave of athletes can bring a change. As Syque Caesar, the American-born Bangladeshi gymnast, who represented Bangladesh in London this year, puts it, “Bangladesh loves sports! I hope I can kick-start a programme that can help develop gymnastics here.”

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