Basketball crying for a home
Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world. Some of the biggest names and highest earners in the sporting world are basketball players. It is an Olympic sport, represented in two disciplines for both men and women.
Yet, in Bangladesh the sport is widely neglected, despite having a big fanbase that follows international basketball, especially the NBA, and the fact that the game is played by a measurable size of urban-school-and-college goers as well as by Dhaka-based clubs and teams from the defence forces.
Although not affluent or very active, the Bangladesh Basketball Federation (BFF) still runs several domestic events, including the premier league, annually. It also hosts international tournaments every few years and during these tournaments the Dhanmondi Wooden Floor Gymnasium, the home of Bangladesh basketball, takes on a party atmosphere.
But all that could turn into a thing of the past as the establishment, situated next to the Abahani club, is being razed to make space for a multi-sport complex, to be named the Sheikh Kamal Sports Complex.
Not only as a venue for tournaments, the two-storied building was a year-long home for budding basketball players and basketball enthusiasts from schools and colleges across the capital.
Now the place is a bare concrete structure, bereft of the court and equipment, counting the days before it is razed to the ground. All that remains for basketball officials and players are memories forged over almost three decades.
Sudesna Biswas, who played for the Bangladesh women's basketball team from 2011-2018, still could not digest the fact that the place was gone forever.
"The memories will never be replaced, but now when I pass by Abahani, I won't be able to look back and point out the gym and tell others what that place is and what it meant to me. So, it feels very hollow. I think it's the same for most people," the 26-year-old told The Daily Star.
The irony is that Sheikh Kamal, the eldest son of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman after whom the complex is being named, was a leading basketball player in the country in the pre-and-post liberation era.
It is not that the sports complex sprung out of nowhere overnight. In fact, it was in the offing for years. Yet the BBF, the National Sports Council -- which gave the BBF the authority to run their activities at the Dhanmondi facility -- and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the guardian of sports federations of the country, did little to find a new home for the popular sport.
"We have been hearing since 2018, when they began to revamp the field, that Abahni would take back the gym and that it would be under them and not the federation. But we were all hoping for a miracle or at the very least that it would take a lot longer. But in four years, the gym is gone," Sudeshna exclaimed.
Ranajit Das, a member of the federation's executive committee, welcomed the initiative to build a complex named after Sheikh Kamal but could not accept that they were being made homeless.
"We are all happy and welcome the building of a sports complex named after Sheikh Kamal. But we have become helpless. We desperately need a new place to conduct our daily activities and organise tournaments. Now I am doing my office work from home," Das told The Daily Star recently.
On June 15, the BBF was sent a written notice to move their belongings to the Mirpur indoor stadium, which is supposed to be their new home, and jostle for space and time with a few other federations.
Parimal Singha, the recently-appointed secretary of the NSC, told The Daily Star that the BFF would have to come to negotiations with other federations to run their training and official activities at the indoor stadium for the time being.
While he did not give any assurances about a permanent home for the sport, BFF officials were hopeful that the NSC and sports ministry would empathise with their plight and look for a permanent solution sooner rather than later.