In search of an Olympic medal with ‘athletes without borders’
Now that San Marino, population 34,000, less than Sabrang, the smallest Union in Teknaf Upazila, have won medals at the Tokyo Olympics, the pressure is mounting on us, the eighth largest country, with about 17 crore people. But, how?
For a person with first-hand experience of presenting for BCB Bangladesh's case to the ICC delegation before we were granted, first the ODI and then the Test status in 1996 and a year later, I know how difficult it is to sell an argument when you do not have a bag-full of laurels.
The importance of a games medal is the prestige and the inspiration it entails for the winner. Ignorant me did not know about San Marino before their triumph on August 1.
San Marino's Alessandra Perilli won their first medal, a bronze in the Women's Shooting Trap at Tokyo. She paired with Gian Marco Berti to claim their second-ever medal, a silver in Mixed Trap two days later.
Bangladesh is the most populated part of the world that has been without a medal, and we have been in the Olympics since USA 1984. Someone born then is today 37-years-old, about the age when most retire from competitive sports. Invigorated by sporting spirit, we are taught that participation is more important than winning, but for how long can we beat our empty vessel?
At Tokyo 2021, Bangladesh had six athletes in four events. Except our male archer, being the first ever direct qualifier in Olympics, the others participated by invitation—our woman archer, the 400m sprinter, the men's rifle shooter, and the two swimmers.
Time has come to shake off the lassitude and sluggishness, but Paris 2024 is too soon. Not much time is left to implement a strategy to our advantage. Realistically, we should target USA 2028. We will have come a full circle in almost 50 years from Los Angeles to Los Angeles. Beats me, I thought they had 50 states.
Let us oil our own charka, and approach the medal problem holistically.
Consider the track sprints. The variety of rice we take helps to fatten us in the wrong places. No calf muscle to power us. We have no stamina for long distance events because our lungs are bungled by oil and spice, roshogolla and jilapee.
Long and high we are not, the events are. Have you seen how tall these Fosbury Floppers are? Too dizzy an altitude, if you ask me at five feet five, and they are leaping almost eight feet high. The elastic pole that can bend so, is quite different from the bamboo we produce, so vaulting is not in our wish list.
Throwing events have been designed unfairly to favour the mammoth. Clearly the steel sphere (Okay, shot putt, you whiz!), the disc, and the hammer that is useless with nails are too heavy. The spear would have been declared a WMD were we good at flinging it, and so they call it javelin.
Our waterbodies are hardly suitable for training. They are dirty, stinking and shallow from dumping waste. I am talking about the sports swimming pools. No surprises that at the Tokyo 2021 our male participant finished 51st, and our woman swimmer finished 68th. Don't look at me! I can barely cover a few metres in a pool.
Basketball, handball, volleyball, nahh… we are too short. We could provide Liberoes though, the diminutive chap in volleyball with the different coloured jersey, but we have to wait till citizenship policies are relaxed in the taller nations. Scanty beach volleyball is out because that would be unjust to our prosperous garment industry.
Allow me to give you one example of this international machination, and our sports pundits are none the wiser. Say, if boxing, wrestling and lifting can be run on the basis of bodyweight, why can't we have volley- and basketball according to height. Lower the net and the basket to make us look good.
Our only male archer at Tokyo 2021 was eliminated from the last 16 and the woman from 32, giving us reason to further concentrate on Archery, but the target has receded into the horizon seemingly well beyond our vision.
Shooting was seriously a promise once upon a time, but if our air rifle shooter was 41st at Tokyo from 10 metres away, we need to rethink the entire process of talent hunt, training and competing. One wonders whether the sport is restricted initially to the son of a big gun, seeing the amount of expensive technical equipment required.
Gymnastics could have been our forte, given our physique, but we cannot start after 12 years of age for Olympic glory, and never stop the rice and other culinary vice. Some of those celebrity rubber band athletes start at two years.
Let's talk of the conspiracy against us. How many countries play the Olympic events, baseball or softball? Globally how many people are golfers of some standard? Canoeing and equestrian are hardly popular worldwide. Respective federations governing karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing have enough clout to compel IOC to include them in the Olympics. After two consecutive T20 triumphs against Australia early August, we have to move full throttle to convince IOC to include cricket too. It's more global than some.
Tokyo, more than any other games, has been a celebration of athletes without borders, although the trend was growing. Sudan-born Peter Bol ran the 800m for Australia in Tokyo. American Becky Hammon competed for Russia in the 2008 Olympics. Tongan Olympic flag bearer at Rio and Tokyo, Pita Nikolas Taufatofua, was born in Australia. American pole vaulter Giovanni Lanaro represented Mexico in Rio. Qatar has lured Kenyan athletes to run for them. Great Britain's 2012 Olympic team had 60 athletes born in other countries. So do the European countries, and the USA.
Racism perhaps is deep-seated but the stigma of colour and nationality has been shattered in world sports for socio-economic and political reasons; thus allowing switching of country. Olympics is no more about patriotism only, but an opportunity to compete, which is the moving force for any athlete.
Rule 41 of the Olympic Charter requires an athlete with a new nationality to let three years pass since the competitor last represented another country to be eligible for the Olympic Games. Just enough time for us to catch Paris.
That has given me the gold medal idea of inviting world-class athletes from other countries. Offer them facilities, and grant them (dual) citizenship to represent Bangladesh. Why should they? For Olympic glory obviously.
The Olympics allow only three athletes per event per country. Many countries have several with qualifying marks in the queue. Their only Olympic hope is to migrate. Why not to Bangladesh?
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.