Selim, Sajib, Babu and a few of their friends were playing football in the middle of the Chittagong Outer Stadium, the bustling meadow of the port city, on Wednesday afternoon. However, they felt uncomfortable seeing the big fence that consumed half the ground where they used to play. They looked understandably gloomy about a bleak future when they might not get enough space to play.
The ground, a property of the National Sports Council and located next to the MA Aziz Stadium at Kazir Dewri, is historic by many counts. It is the venue where Bangladesh's top batsman Tamim Iqbal honed his skills at a tender age, where his uncle Akram Khan -- the hero of Bangladesh's ICC trophy triumph -- exceptional batsman Minhazul Abedin and brilliant footballer Asish Bhadra kicked the ball about or hit a cricket ball as hard as they could when they were kids like Selim, Sajib or Babu.
The big fencing is for construction of a swimming complex, which will fulfil a long-standing demand of the Chittagong District Sports Association (CDSA) -- the custodian of the MA Aziz Stadium and the Outer Stadium.
The swimming complex is expected to be built in a year at the cost of 11.4 crore taka and with it, CDSA's wish would be fulfilled. But the burning question is if it is absolutely necessary to build a swimming complex on this meadow, which was once a 6.9 acre space for kids to play whatever game they felt like. After the construction of a market on a 2.4 acre plot, the land is already considerably shrunken and now, with the proposed swimming complex covering a further 1.8 acres, it leaves just 2.7 acres of land for the kids to play on. But even that space will again be subject to how much the areas are occupied by trucks and buses which are parked inside ground.
"We brought out a procession on Friday afternoon in Kazir Dewri area demanding not to build swimming pool in the outer stadium as we don't have any alternative playground in the area," said Sajib.
At least four cricket academies, including Ispahani Cricket Academy, Chittagong Junior Cricket Academy, Port City Cricket Academy and Brothers Cricket Academy, were doing net practice in four adjacent pitches on Wednesday morning.
Amzad Hossain Uzzal, a coach of Ispahani Cricket Academy, said the ground remains occupied for different fairs for at least three months a year. The ground remains in a poor condition during the rainy season, he added, saying: "We just get a few months to practice on the field."
"Building a swimming pool would shrink the size of the ground and will make the scope of playing more limited for the youngsters," he said.
But Sirajuddin Mohammad Alamgir, general secretary of Chittagong Divisional Sports Association, defended the decision of constructing a swimming complex in the Outer Stadium.
"Building a swimming pool was a long-standing demand from the sportspeople of the port city," he said. "It's a matter of surprise that there is no swimming pool in a divisional city under the authority of the District Sports Association."
When asked why the pool site has been chosen at an important playground, he said a survey team of National Sports Council visited the city several times and "found no ideal place" but here to build a swimming complex.
However, former Chittagong city mayor and president of Chittagong city unit Awami League ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury refuted it, saying that there was an abundance of land in the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium to build a swimming complex.
"We need a swimming pool for sports, but it should not be at the cost of a vital playground of the city," he said, adding that Chittagong city is already starved of playgrounds.
When contacted, Deputy Commissioner of Chittagong Shamsul Arefin, also president of CDSA, said: "It would be better if the issue would have been raised much earlier."
The port city has got two swimming complexes now. One is owned by the Chittagong City Corporation and the other one is located at the Govt. College of Physical Education. The city corporation one was built in 2014 at the Jatisangha Park in Panchlaish. Unfortunately, both facilities are not functional. The City Corporation one was not even opened for the last three years.
"There are faults in the design of the two pools and also in the planning," Lt Col Mohiuddin Ahmed, chief engineer of the Chittagong City Corporation, told this reporter yesterday.
"The two pools were built for males and females separately but facilities were not ensured accordingly," he added.
The swimming pool of the Government College of Physical Education remains unused for several years. Billal Hossain, principal of the college, said: "The system has been out of order for several years. We have informed the Ministry of Youth and Sports but have yet to get any response."
We don't know if the third swimming facility, which is in the making, will suffer the same fate. But one thing for sure is that we will have another concrete structure at the expense of the precious green tops our kids so desperately need if we are to see another Tamim in the making.